Although it is established that growth factors and prostaglandins function in the maintenance of gastric mucosal integrity and in the healing of gastric mucosal injury and ulceration, the regulatory relationship between growth factors and prostaglandins in the gastric mucosa is not well characterized. Therefore, we investigated whether hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) affects expression of COX-2 (the inducible form of the prostaglandin synthesizing enzyme, cyclooxygenase) in gastric epithelial cells and whether this action is mediated through the MAP (ERK) kinase signaling pathway. In RGM1 cells (an epithelial cell line derived from normal rat gastric mucosa), HGF caused an increase in COX-2 mRNA and protein by 236% and 175%, respectively (both P<0.05). This induction of COX-2 expression was abolished by pretreatment with the MAPK kinase (MEK) inhibitor PD98059. HGF also triggered a 13-fold increase in c-Met/HGF receptor phosphorylation (P<0.005) and increased ERK2 activity by 684% (P<0.01). Pretreatment with PD98059 abolished the HGF-induced increase in ERK2 activity, but not c-Met/HGF receptor phosphorylation. The specific inhibitor of p38 MAP kinase, SB203580, had no effect on HGF-induced COX-2 expression. Thus, HGF triggers activation of the COX-2 gene in gastric epithelial cells through phosphorylation of c-Met/HGF receptor and activation of the ERK2 signaling pathway.-Jones, M. K., Sasaki, E., Halter, F., Pai, R., Nakamura, T., Arakawa, T., Kuroki, T., Tarnawski, A. S. HGF triggers activation of the COX-2 gene in rat gastric epithelial cells: action mediated through the ERK2 signaling pathway.