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Scatter factor/hepatocyte growth factor (SF/HGF) is a pleiotropic cytokine that has been implicated in glioma invasion and angiogenesis. The SF/HGF receptor, MET, has been found to be expressed in neoplastic astrocytes as well as in endothelial cells of the tumor vasculature. Both SF/HGF and MET expression have also been described to correlate with the malignancy grade of human gliomas. However, most glioblastoma cell lines lack SF/HGF expression, raising the question of the cellular origin of SF/HGF in vivo. Using in situ hybridization, we analyzed glioblastomas, anaplastic astrocytomas, diffuse astrocytomas, pilocytic astrocytomas, and normal brain for the expression of SF/HGF mRNA. We detected strong SF/HGF expression by the majority of the tumor cells and by vascular endothelial cells in all glioblastoma specimens analyzed. Combined use of in situ hybridization with fluorescence immunohistochemistry confirmed the astrocytic origin of the SF/HGF-expressiong cells. In contrast, CD68-immunoreactive microglia/macrophages, as well as vascular smooth muscle cells reactive to alpha-smooth muscle actin, lacked SF/HGF expression. In anaplastic, diffuse, and pilocytic astrocytomas, SF/HGF expression was confined to a subset of tumor cells, and signals were less intense than in glioblastomas. In addition, we detected SF/HGF mRNA in cortical neurons. SF/HGF expression was not up regulated around necroses or at tumor margins. MET immunoreactivity was observed in GFAP-expressing astrocytic tumor cells and endothelial cells as well as in a subset of microglia/macrophages. We conclude that in vivo, both autocrine and paracrine stimulation of tumor cells and endothelium through the SF/HGF-MET system are likely to contribute to tumor invasion and angiogenesis. Lack of SF/HGF expression by most cultured glioblastoma cells is not representative of the in vivo situation and most likely represents a culture artifact.