Matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) are a family of zinc-dependent enzymes which degrade various components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) and play an important role in facilitating neoplastic cell invasion and metastasis. Structural changes in the extracellular matrix are necessary for cell migration during tissue remodeling and tumor invasion. Expression of MMP-2, -3, -9, -10, and -13 was investigated in both spontaneous and xenografted (cells derived from an established cell-line [DAOY#3]) childhood medulloblastomas (MEDs)/primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) employing an indirect alkaline phosphatase conjugated immunocytochemical technique. Evaluation of the results was based on (a) the percent of neoplastically transformed tissue that reacted positively and (b) a measure of staining intensity [graded from A (highest) to D]. The 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. Strong overall expression of MMP-3 and -10 was found only in the spontaneous MEDs/PNETs, especially in the ECM adjacent to blood vessels. Positive immunoreactivity could be seen for these two MMPs in the ECM surrounding over 90% of the neoplastically transformed cells in the spontaneous cases, and the staining intensity was also the strongest possible (A,B). Focal (surrounding less than 10% of the neoplastically transformed cells) but strong (A,B) immunoreactivity for collagenase-3 (MMP-13) was also only detected in spontaneous MEDs/PNETs, 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 in the spontaneous cases. Staining for MMP-2 was negative in the xenografted MEDs/PNETs. The only positive immunoreactivity in the xenografted MEDs/PNETs was observed in the case of MMP-9, with expression of strong intensity in the ECM surrounding over 90% of the neoplastically transformed xenografted MED/PNET cells (++++; A,B). It is clear that the activation of MMPs and their inhibitors occurs in a very well orchestrated manner. The data presented here suggest that there are significant differences in the pathophysiology of spontaneous and xenografted human neoplasms, which further establishes the already detected limitations of such models in preclinical cancer research.