Myocardial infarction (MI), leads to cardiac remodeling, thinning of the ventricle wall, ventricular dilation, and heart failure, and is a leading cause of death. Interactions between the contractile elements of the cardiac myocytes and the extracellular matrix (ECM) help maintain myocyte alignment required for the structural and functional integrity of the heart. Following MI, reorganization of the ECM and the myocytes occurs, contributing to loss of heart function. In certain pathological circumstances, the ECM is modulated such that the structure of the tissue becomes damaged. The matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a family of enzymes that degrade molecules of the ECM. The present experiments were performed to define the time-course, isozyme subtypes, and cellular source of increased MMP expression that occurs following MI in an experimental rabbit model. Heart tissue samples from infarcted and sham animals were analyzed over a time-course of 1-14 days. By zymography, it was demonstrated that, unlike the sham controls, MMP-9 expression was induced within 24 hours following MI. MMP-3 expression, also absent in sham controls, was induced 2 days after MI. MMP-2 expression was detected in both the sham and infarcted samples and was modestly up-regulated following MI. Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1) expression was evaluated and shown to be down-regulated following MI, inverse of MMP-9 and MMP-3 expression. Further, MMP-9 and MMP-3 expression was detected by immunohistochemistry in myocytes within the infarct. Additional studies were conducted in which cultured rat cardiac myocytes were exposed to a hypoxic environment (2% O2) for 24 hours and the media analyzed for MMP expression. MMP-9 and MMP-3 were induced following exposure to hypoxia. It is speculated that the net increase in proteolytic activity by myocytes is a contributing factor leading to myocyte misalignment and slippage. Additional studies with a MMP inhibitor would elucidate this hypothesis.