Proteolytic degradation of collagen-rich extracellular matrices is a key feature in the development, growth and aging of skeleton. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a family of enzymes capable of performing this function, whereas tissue inhibitors of MMPs (TIMPs) are believed to play an important role in regulating their activity. To better understand the roles of TIMP-1, -2 and -3, we have studied their mRNA levels in several different mouse tissues with special emphasis on the skeleton and the developing eye. A systematic analysis of TIMP-1, -2 and -3 mRNA levels in mouse knee joints during growth and aging demonstrated markedly different expression patterns for each TIMP. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed several time-dependent changes in the distribution of TIMP-1 and -2 in articular and growth cartilages, synovial tissue and bone. The data suggest that upon aging synovial tissue becomes the major source of synovial fluid TIMPs. In articular cartilage these inhibitors were mainly found in the deep layer and in subchondral bone. Compared with epiphyseal growth plate, the amounts of TIMP-1 and -2 in articular cartilage were quite low. These findings suggest that the capacity of articular cartilage chondrocytes to inhibit MMP activities by local production of TIMPs is limited, which may be of consequence during osteoarthritic cartilage degeneration.