The matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a family of enzymes that degrade the extracellular matrix (ECM) and are considered to be important in neoplastic cell invasion and metastasis. Structural changes in the extracellular matrix are necessary for cell migration during tissue remodeling and neoplastic invasion. Expression of MMP-2, -3, -9, -10, and -13 was investigated in human childhood medulloblastomas (MEDs)/primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) employing an indirect alkaline phosphatase conjugated immunohistochemical antigen detection technique. Evaluation of the results was based on (a) the percent of neoplastically transformed tissue that reacted positively and (b) a measure of immunoreactivity or staining intensity [graded from A (highest) to D (negative)]. Strong overall expression of MMP-3 and -10 was found in MEDs/PNETs, especially in the ECM adjacent to blood vessels. Positive immunoreactivity was identified for these two MMPs in the ECM surrounding over 90% of the neoplastically transformed cells with the staining intensity being also the strongest possible (A,B). These two forms of stromelysin (SL), types 1 (MMP-3) and 2 (MMP-10), share 82% sequence homology, but exhibit differences in cellular synthesis and inducibility by cytokines and growth factors in vitro. Focal (surrounding less than 10% of the neoplastically transformed cells) but strong (A,B) immunoreactivity was determined for collagenase-3 (MMP-13), an endopeptidase characterized by a potent degrading activity against a wide spectrum of substrates. Weak (surrounding anywhere between 10% and 90% of the neoplastically transformed cells, and of B and B,C intensity) expression of MMP-2 (gelatinase A) and MMP-9 (gelatinase B), two cytokine-induced MMPs, was also observed. It is clear that the activation of MMPs and their inhibitors occurs in a very well orchestrated manner. The necessity of these same enzymes for the extravasation and infiltration of lymphocytes into regions of chronic local inflammation, as associated with neoplastically transformed masses of cells, may aid the transformed cells which have already acquired a more aggressive, metastatic immunophenotype (IP) to enter the peripheral circulation. Further characterization of the expression and utilization of MMPs and their inhibitors in the progression of solid human malignancies should lead to the development of novel anti-cancer therapies.