The pathophysiological and biological significance of tissue inhibitor of the metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP-3) gene compared to other TIMPs was investigated in osteoarthritic (OA) human and normal bovine joint tissues. Human OA synovial fibroblasts in culture constitutively expressed TIMP mRNAs. TIMP-3, TIMP-1 and gelatinase A mRNAs were elevated in most human OA synovia over controls, while TIMP-2 expression was similar. TIMP-3 and TIMP-1 mRNAs present in bovine cartilage were inducible by serum factors. Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta 1) induced TIMP-3 RNA and protein in human OA and normal bovine chondrocytes. TIMP mRNAs were low (TIMP-1) or undetectable in human fetal chondrocytes but were expressed at all other ages. Thus, the two main joint tissues, synovial membranes and cartilage, express TIMP genes. Due to their matrix protecting activities, the presence of multiple TIMPs may be beneficial for normal joints, while increased TIMP-3 and TIMP-1 expression in arthritic joints may be associated with pathological remodeling.