Mammalian spermatozoa acquire motility and fertilizing capacity during their transit through the epididymis. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a pleiotropic cytokine with potent motogenic capacities that has been identified in different organs, including the mammalian male genital tract. In mice, HGF is present in the testis and, in large amounts, in the distal part of the epididymis. In prepuberal rats, we have demonstrated that HGF is synthesized by the peritubular myoid cells and in men, HGF is present in significant quantities in seminal plasma. It has been suggested that in mice, HGF has a role in initiating sperm motility, whereas in men, no significant correlations between HGF concentration and sperm motility have been found. In the present paper we report that in rats, HGF receptor, c-met, is expressed in testicular and epididymal spermatozoa. Through immunocytochemistry, we have found that c-met is exclusively localized on the head in testicular sperm. A different localization of c-met has been found in sperm isolated from caput and cauda epididymidis. Cells isolated from epididymal caput show a c-met localization exclusively restricted to the head in most cells. In a minority of caput epididymis spermatozoa the receptor is localized both in the cell head and along the flagellum. Spermatozoa isolated from the epididymal cauda were quite homogeneous, showing the receptor localized along the entire cell surface. We also report that HGF is synthesized and secreted by the rat epididymis as indicated by the scatter effect of epididymal cell homogenate and culture medium on MDCK cells. To clarify whether HGF is involved in the acquisition of sperm motility in the epididymis, its maintenance, or both, spermatozoa isolated from caput epididymidis have been cultured in medium alone or supplemented with HGF. The results obtained indicated that HGF has a positive effect on the maintenance of sperm motility which, in the absence of HGF, significantly decreases during the first hour of culture, whereas it is maintained for at least 3 hours when HGF is present in the culture medium. We also report that HGF does not influence spermatozoa viability as indicated by the cytometrical analysis of propidium iodide-labeled sperm; an equal number of dead cells appeared in control and in HGF-treated preparations. In conclusion, our data strongly support the hypothesis that HGF positively influences sperm motility maintenance during sperm transit through the epididymis, indicating that c-met receptor and its ligand, HGF, have a role in male fertility.