Hepatocyte growth factor activator (HGFA) is a serine protease that is responsible for localized activation of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) in injured tissue. The activated HGF may be involved in regeneration of the injured tissue. HGFA is produced and secreted by the liver and circulates in the plasma as an inactive zymogen. In response to tissue injury, the HGFA zymogen is converted to the active form by limited proteolysis. In this study, we isolated a rat HGFA complementary DNA (cDNA) clone and analyzed the production of HGFA messenger RNA (mRNA) in response to tissue injury using this cDNA clone as a probe. The nucleotide sequence of the cDNA revealed that the amino acid sequences of rat and human HGFA showed a high degree of conservation in the regions of the characteristic domain structures, suggesting that rat and human HGFA are activated by a similar mechanism and have similar enzymatic activities in vivo. Tissue distribution analysis showed that the liver was the major site of rat HGFA mRNA synthesis. Moreover, the cells producing HGFA mRNA were identified as parenchymal liver cells. The level of HGFA mRNA increased in the liver after hepatotoxin or nephrotoxin treatment. This increase was also observed during acute inflammation induced by turpentine. These results suggest that the increase in production of HGFA mRNA in response to tissue injury is the result of an inflammatory response, and that HGFA is an acute phase protein.