Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) signaling drives epithelial cells to scatter by breaking cell-cell adhesions and migrating as solitary cells, a process that parallels epithelial-mesenchymal transition. HGF binds and activates the c-Met receptor tyrosine kinase, but downstream signaling required for scattering remains poorly defined. This study addresses this shortcoming in a number of ways.A high-throughput in vitro drug screen was employed to identify proteins necessary in this HGF-induced signaling. Cells were tested for reactivity to HGF stimulation in a Boyden chamber assay. This tactic yielded several small molecules that block HGF-induced scattering, including a calcium channel blocker. Patch clamping was used to determine the precise effect of HGF stimulation on Ca2+ signaling in MDCK II cells. Cell-attached patch clamping was employed to detect Ca2+ signaling patterns, and channel blockers were used in various combinations to deduce the identity of Ca2+ channels involved in EMT. The results of these experiments show that HGF stimulation results in sudden and transient increases in calcium channel influxes. These increases occur at predictable intervals and rely on proper tubulin polymerization to appear, as determined through the use of a tubulin polymerization inhibitor. Though multiple channels occur in the membranes of MDCK II cells, noticeably TRPV4 and TrpC6, it is TrpC6 that is specifically required for HGF-induced scattering. These HGF-induced calcium influxes through TrpC6 channels drive a transient increase in NFAT-dependent gene transcription which is required for HGF-induced EMT. This was determined through the use of luciferase-based NFAT reporter assays and confirmed through confocal immunofluorescence. Using a small-molecule inhibitor of WNK kinase, it was determined that loss of WNK kinase function is sufficient to prevent HGF-induced EMT. Furthermore, patch-clamp analysis demonstrated that WNK kinase significantly increases channel opening at the surface of MDCK cells, indicating a possible mechanism of action for c-Met inhibition, but leaving doubt as to whether WNK kinase is in fact normally involved in c-Met signaling, or whether it is simply permissive.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Physiology and Developmental Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





cancer, c-Met, HGF, calcium, NFAT, tubulin, epithelial-mesenchymal transition, WNK kinase