Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor c-met are present in several human tissues but their expression in mesothelial cells has not been examined. In this study, we have investigated the expression of HGF and c-met in normal human mesothelial cells and 11 human malignant mesothelioma cell lines. Using RT-PCR and Western blotting we found that HGF is produced by 3/11 mesothelioma cell lines whereas c-met is expressed in 11/11 mesothelioma cell lines. In addition, c-met expression was also found in 6/6 cell samples obtained from pleural fluids of patients with mesothelioma. In contrast, neither normal cultured mesothelial cells nor mesothelial cells obtained directly from patients without mesothelioma expressed HGF nor c-met. We have also analysed the biological function of HGF and c-met in mesothelioma cell lines. Recombinant human (rh) HGF stimulated both directional (chemotactic) and random (chemokinetic) motility in all mesothelioma cell lines tested. Furthermore, mesothelioma serum free conditioned medium containing HGF stimulated mesothelioma cell migration. This effect could be blocked in the presence of neutralizing anti-HGF monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) in the assay. Addition of HGF to mesothelioma cells cultured on collagen type IV was associated with induction of bipolar shape and protrusion of prominent pseudopodia. We have also found that rhHGF was mitogenic for mesothelioma cells. Our findings suggest that expression of HGF/c-met is involved not only in mesothelioma progression but also in its growth and migration and that c-met expression found in mesothelioma cells taken directly from patients may be of diagnostic importance.