HGF is a multifunctional polypeptide with mitogenic, motogenic and morphogenic effects. These effects are mediated by c-met, a specific receptor of HGF and a member of the receptor tyrosine kinase superfamily, virtually expressed in every type of kidney cell. HGF has a central role during embryogenesis since it stimulates epithelial differentiation of metanephric mesenchymal cells and induces branching tubules, as experiments in epithelial cells cultures demonstrated. Several studies have shown also that HGF accelerates the recovery from toxic-ischemic acute renal failure. This effect seems to be mediated by the inhibition of programmed cell death and an increased cell survival. HGF inhibits apoptosis by upregulating the protooncogene Bcl-2 and downregulating Bax. Since HGF can modulate extracellular matrix turnover, authors suggest its beneficial role in tissue remodelling and particularly in chronic renal diseases. Several studies reported a key role for HGF in reducing interstitial fibrosis and glomerular sclerosis, both in in vivo and in vitro models. This protective effect is secondary to HGF antagonizing the profibrotic action of TGF-beta. HGF modulates the balance between synthesis and degradation of extracellular matrix, increasing the expression of metalloproteases and reducing the production of their specific inhibitors TIMPs. Furthermore HGF suppresses the effect of TGF-beta by blocking the axis TGF-beta/Smad. Last, the antifibrotic effect of HGF might be modulated by the proliferative status of target cells. To sum up, the supplementation of exogenous HGF or the induction of endogenous HGF expression may provide an effective therapeutic strategy for combating chronic renal diseases.
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