Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is considered to be one of the mediators of epithelial-mesenchymal interactions during early organogenesis and to be involved in the development of murine molars. In this study, the immunohistochemical localization of HGF and of its receptor, c-Met, revealed that HGF was distributed in the proliferating mesenchymal cells in the dental papillae and that c-Met was continuously expressed in the epithelial cells during the development of rat incisors. These observations confirmed the involvement of HGF in the development of rat incisors, as demonstrated previously in molars. We then used a primary culture of ameloblast-lineage cells, prepared from mandibular incisors of young rats, to examine the direct effects of HGF on the growth and differentiation of ameloblasts. We found that HGF at 2-20 ng/ml induced a marked increase in the number of ameloblast-lineage cells and in the scattering of such cells. Our results suggest that HGF promotes the proliferation and scattering of ameloblast-lineage cells simultaneously.