Malignant gliomas are characterized by rapid growth, infiltration of normal brain tissue, and high levels of tumor-associated angiogenesis. The genetic and local environmental tissue factors responsible for the malignant progression from low to high grade gliomas and the highly malignant behavior of glioblastomas are not well understood. In a study of 77 human brain tissue extracts, high grade (III-IV) tumors had significantly greater scatter factor (SF) content than did low grade tumors or non-neoplastic tissue. To investigate the potential significance of SF accumulation in gliomas, we measured the effects of SF on DNA synthesis and motility of cultured human glioma cell lines. SF stimulated DNA synthesis in 7/10 glioma cell lines and in 3/3 neuromicrovascular endothelial cell (NMVEC) lines, consistent with our previous report that SF stimulated cell proliferation of a few human glioma cell lines. SF markedly stimulated the chemotactic migration of 10/10 glioma cell lines as well as 3/3 NMVEC lines. In addition, SF stimulated the 2-dimensional migration of glioma cells on culture surfaces coated with specific extracellular matrix molecules (collagen i.v., laminin, and fibronection). As expected based on these biologic responses to SF, 10/10 glioma lines and 4/4 NMVEC lines expressed mRNA for c-met, the SF receptor. To assess the possible in vivo significance of these migration assays, we compared the chemotactic response of a glioma cell line to human brain cyst fluids and tumor extracts that contained high or low SF concentrations. Fluids and extracts with high SF content tended to induce higher levels of chemotactic migration than did fluids and extracts with low SF content. Addition of anti-SF monoclonal antibody (MAb) inhibited migration induced by fluids and extracts with high SF content by about 30-50%.