We investigated the role of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) in beta-cell growth and its complex intracellular signal transduction pathways. Cell proliferation was measured in the beta-cell line INS-1 using [3H]thymidine incorporation. Activation of mitogenic signaling proteins was assessed using co-immunoprecipitation, immunoblot analysis and specific protein activity inhibitors in proliferation assays. HGF (1 x 375 nM) increased INS-1 cell proliferation in the presence of 3-24 mM glucose up to 45-fold vs unstimulated controls. HGF exceeded the effect of glucose alone (2 x 2-fold at 3 mM glucose and 1 x 7-fold in the presence of 15 mM glucose). The HGF-induced INS-1 cell proliferation was further increased by addition of IGF-I or GH. Stimulation with HGF activated the JAK-2/STAT-5 pathway with a subsequent activation of phosphatidylinositol-3'-kinase (PI3'K). PI3'K activation was necessary for HGF- and glucose-stimulated INS-1 cell proliferation. The effect of PI3'K was mediated via 70 kDa S6 kinase and protein kinase B, which showed maximum activation in the presence of 3-6 mM glucose. Protein kinase C was essential for HGF-induced INS-1 cell proliferation. The HGF effect was also mediated at low glucose concentrations via insulin receptor substrate 4 (IRS-4) whereas other IRS proteins did not show any activation. High glucose concentrations also showed an increased IRS-4/PI3'K binding and therefore activation. In conclusion, beta-cell proliferation is mediated via complex interacting signal transduction pathways. HGF, in contrast to other growth factors, seems to be of importance particularly in the presence of low glucose concentrations and therefore takes a special role in this complex concert.
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