There is a growing body of evidence that implicates matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) as major players in numerous diseased conditions. The articular cartilage degradation that is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is believed to be mediated by the collagenase subfamily of matrix metalloproteinases. The preference of collagenase-3 (CL-3) for collagen type II makes it a likely candidate in the turnover of articular cartilage and a potential target for drug development. In this study, RA synovial membrane tissue was shown to express CL-3 mRNA by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and protein by immunohistochemistry. Fibroblasts isolated and cultured from RA synovial membrane tissue were induced to express CL-3 mRNA. CL-3 mRNA was detected after PMA treatment in 16 of the 18 RA synovial membrane fibroblast cell lines established for this study. These fibroblasts also expressed mRNA for collagenase-1 (CL-1, MMP-1), membrane type-1 matrix metalloproteinase, gelatinase A, gelatinase B, stromelysin-1, stromelysin-2, TIMP-1, and TIMP-2. They were further shown to express CL-1 mRNA constitutively and CL-3 mRNA only after stimulation with PMA, IL-1, TGF-beta1, TNF-alpha, or IL-6 with IL-6sR. These fibroblasts also expressed after induction both CL-1 and CL-3 at the protein level as determined by Western blot analyses and immunofluorescence.