The MET proto-oncogene encodes for the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) receptor, a plasma membrane tyrosine kinase that is involved in melanocyte growth and melanoma development. In mouse melanoma cells, Met expression is increased by αMSH via the activation of the cAMP pathway. However, the mechanism by which cAMP regulates MET and the biological consequences of this increase were not known. In the present report, we show that αMSH regulates MET expression in both human melanocytes and mouse melanoma cells through a transcriptional mechanism that requires MITF. Furthermore, the adenovirus driven expression of MITF is sufficient to increase MET in melanoma cells. Functional analysis of the MET promoter allows us to identify an E-box motif conserved in both human and mouse promoter that mediates the effect of MITF. Interestingly, up-regulation of MET expression by cAMP leads to an exacerbated HGF signaling and allows HGF to protect melanocytes and melanoma cells from apoptosis. Thus, physiological stimuli or pathological events that would induce MITF expression may lead to increased MET expression thereby favoring melanoma survival. These observations strengthen the roles of MITF and MET in melanoma development.
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