Metalloproteinases have been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis. We report longitudinal serum levels of gelatinase B and of the tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases (TIMP), TIMP-1 and TIMP-2, in 21 patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis. Patients had monthly clinical and gadolinium-enhanced MRI follow-up for 10 months. Longitudinal samples in nine healthy controls and cross-sectional samples from 12 patients with inflammatory CNS disease and 15 patients with other neurological diseases were used for comparison. Average serum gelatinase B, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 levels were significantly higher in multiple sclerosis patients and those with other neurological diseases than in healthy controls. In the patients with multiple sclerosis, gelatinase B levels were significantly higher during clinical relapse compared with periods of clinical stability. Multiple sclerosis patients with high mean serum gelatinase B levels had significantly more T1-weighted gadolinium-enhancing MRI lesions than those with mean levels within the control range. TIMP-1 levels were not different during relapse and between relapses. There was a trend for TIMP-2 levels to be lower during relapse compared with non-relapse periods. For similar levels of serum gelatinase B, associated TIMP-1 levels were significantly lower and TIMP-2 levels significantly higher in multiple sclerosis patients compared with the inflammatory CNS control group. We propose that an abnormality in the inhibitory response to metalloproteinases may play an aetiological role in the chronicity of multiple sclerosis.