Retarded wound healing was found in mice deficient in the serine protease precursor plasminogen, as well as in wild-type mice treated with the metalloprotease inhibitor galardin, but in both cases wound closure was ultimately completed in all mice within 60 days. The expression of several matrix metalloproteases in keratinocytes migrating to cover the wound was strongly enhanced by galardin treatment. However, when plasminogen-deficient mice were treated with galardin, healing was completely arrested and wound closure was not seen during an observation period of 100 days, demonstrating that protease activity is essential for skin wound healing. The requirement for both plasminogen deficiency and metalloprotease inhibition for complete inhibition of the healing process indicates that there is a functional overlap between the two classes of matrix-degrading proteases, probably in the dissection of the fibrin-rich provisional matrix by migrating keratinocytes. Each class alone is capable of maintaining sufficient keratinocyte migration to regenerate the epidermal surface, although this function would normally be performed by both classes acting in parallel. Since there are strong similarities between the proteolytic mechanisms in wound healing and cancer invasion, these results predict that complete arrest of this latter process in therapeutic settings will require the use of inhibitors of both classes of proteases.