The fate of hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) in the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment is determined by two different interactions: 1) they adhere (via integrins) to both extracellular matrix molecules and BM stromal cells; and 2) stromal cells produce cytokines that influence their survival, proliferation, differentiation, and mobilization. The ligands for the protein tyrosine kinase receptors c-KIT and FLT3/FLK2, stem cell factor (SCF), and FL are produced by BM stromal cells and are known to affect several facets of hematopoiesis. We studied another protein tyrosine kinase receptor, c-MET, and its ligand hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), also known as scatter factor (SF), which play a similar role in hematopoiesis. c-MET mRNA is expressed in immature human BM HPCs (CD34+CD33- or CD34+CD38-), but not in more mature HPCs (CD34+CD33+ or CD34+CD38+). The ligand HGF/SF is predominantly produced by BM stromal cells at both the mRNA and protein levels. We confirmed functionally that HGF/SF alone has no effect on proliferation of HPCs, but that when combined with granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) or interleukin-3 it acts as a synergistic proliferative factor, although not as potently as kit-ligand or FLT-3/FLK-2 ligand. Furthermore, HGF/SF promotes adhesion of HPCs to immobilized fibronectin. HGF/SF-induced adhesion to fibronectin is probably caused by activation of the integrins alpha4beta1 and alpha5beta1, insofar as we were able to block this interaction by using monoclonal blocking antibodies directed against these integrin subunits. Addition of the tyrosine-phosphorylation inhibitor genistein inhibited HGF/SF-induced adhesion, supporting the idea that HGF/SF-induced effects are the result of signaling via the receptor c-MET after ligand binding. The enhanced adhesion of HGF/SF to fibronectin proved to be beneficial for the maintenance of the colony-forming potential of HPCs. HGF/SF alone and especially in combination with fibronectin prolongs survival of GM colony-forming cells in liquid culture. Our data indicate that HGF/SF is a polyfunctional cytokine in the BM microenvironment. It is produced by human BM stromal cells and directly or indirectly promotes proliferation, adhesion, and survival of human HPCs.