The role of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor, c-met, in proliferation and differentiation of satellite cells was studied in primary cultures of chicken skeletal muscle satellite cells and a myogenic C2 cell line. HGF mRNA was expressed mainly in the myotubes of both cultures. The addition of conditioned medium derived from those cultures had a scattering effect on the canine kidney epithelial cell line, MDCK. In contrast, c-met mRNA levels decreased during cell differentiation of C2 and primary satellite cells. Application of exogenous HGF to chicken myoblasts resulted in their enhanced DNA synthesis. Among several growth factors, HGF was the first to induce DNA synthesis in quiescent satellite cells, thereby driving them into the cell cycle. Ectopic expression of chicken HGF in primary satellite cells suppressed the activation of muscle-regulatory gene reporter constructs MCK-CAT, MRF4-CAT, MEF2-CAT and 4Rtk-CAT, as well as the gene expression of MyoD and myogenin, and MHC protein expression. Ectopic MyoD reversed HGF's inhibitory effect on MCK transactivation. These data suggest that HGF inhibits cell differentiation by inhibiting the activity of basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH)/E protein heterodimers, thus inhibiting myogenic determination factor activity and subsequent muscle-specific protein expression. During muscle growth and regeneration, HGF plays a dual role in satellite-cell myogenesis, affecting both the proliferation and differentiation of these cells in a paracrine fashion.