Tears in the internal elastic lamina (IEL) can be observed after chronic increases in arterial blood flow, suggesting a potential role for matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in flow-induced vascular remodeling. We undertook to study this phenomenon by constructing an arteriovenous fistula (AVF) between the left common carotid artery (CCA) and the external jugular vein in rabbits. The diameter of the flow-loaded left CCA increased by 13.6+/-1.8% by day 3 after construction of the AVF compared with the right CCA (n=4, P:<0.01) and by 40.7+/-7.5% by day-15 (n=10, P:<0.0001). Increased CCA diameter also coincided with IEL fragmentation. Three days after construction of the AVF, gelatin zymography of protein extracts from left CCAs of untreated rabbits showed a significant increase in the 62-kDa (active MMP-2) activity and the appearance of a lytic band at 92 kDa (pro-MMP-9). In further experiments, MMP activity was inhibited by treatment with doxycycline (DOX) or BB-94, a specific MMP inhibitor. The increase in the 62-kDa gelatinolytic band was abolished in DOX- and BB-94-treated rabbits. The 92-kDa gelatinolytic band was also reduced in DOX-treated animals. Furthermore, both increased left CCA diameter and IEL fragmentation were abolished in DOX- and BB-94-treated rabbits. To evaluate whether nitric oxide was involved in blood flow-induced MMP activation, the rabbits were treated with N:(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester to inhibit nitric oxide synthesis. MMP activities were significantly decreased in the left CCAs of N:(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester-treated animals. Hence, blood flow-induced MMP activation is critical in flow-induced vascular enlargement and IEL fragmentation, and blood flow-induced nitric oxide participates in MMP activation.