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The Met protein is a receptor tyrosine kinase for hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF), a multifunctional growth factor with mitogenic, motogenic and morphogenic properties. A morphologically altered variant of the MDCK cell line, MDCK-1, spontaneously exhibits a number of features associated with a partial HGF/SF-Met induced phenotype (less adhesive colonies in culture, enhanced invasion and motility, nascent tubule formation), but paradoxically does not respond to HGF/SF treatment. Although the overall cell surface expression and distribution of Met were found to be similar in parental MDCK cells and the MDCK-1 cell line, p145met autophosphorylation (+/ HGF/SF) was significantly reduced in MDCK-1 cells in vitro and in vivo when compared with parental MDCK cells. In contrast, EGF induced cell proliferation and EGF receptor autophosphorylation to similar levels in both cell lines. The basal levels of protein tyrosine phosphorylation were higher in MDCK-1 cells when compared with parental MDCK cells, including that of two prominent proteins with molecular masses of approximately 185 kDa and 220 kDa. Moreover, both p185 and p220 are present and tyrosine phosphorylated in Met immunoprecipitates from MDCK-1 cells (+/-HGF/SF), but not parental MDCK cells. In addition, Met immunocomplexes from MDCK-1 cells exhibited an approximately 3-fold increased tyrosine kinase activity in vitro when compared with MDCK cells, correlating with the higher basal levels of total phosphotyrosine. Treatment of MDCK-1 cells with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor herbimycin A reverted the cell phenotype to a more MDCK-like morphology in culture, with a concomitant reduction in the tyrosine phosphorylation predominantly of p220. Taken together these data suggest that aberrations in Met activity and associated signalling render MDCK-1 cells insensitive to HGF/SF, and may also mediate alterations in MDCK-1 cell behaviour.