The present study investigated the modulatory role of transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGFbeta1) on the secretion of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and tested whether the altered secretion of MMPs could directly affect the invasive behavior of ovarian cancer cells. To this aim, human ovarian cancer SKOV3 cells were treated once with vehicle or various concentrations of TGFbeta1 for 24 h. Gelatinase activities in conditioned media were analyzed by zymography and densitometry. TGFbeta1 dose-dependently stimulated the secretion of a 68-kDa gelatinase, which was characterized as an MMP because its activity was inhibited by a metalloproteinase inhibitor 1,10-phenanthroline, and by a synthetic MMP inhibitor BB3103. In addition, we used aminophenylmercuric acetate (APMA) to activate latent gelatinases. APMA time-dependently decreased the activity of 68-kDa gelatinase, and increased the activities of 64- and 62-kDa gelatinolytic bands. The 68-kDa gelatinase was further characterized as MMP2 (gelatinase A) by immunoblotting analysis. We then tested TGFbeta1 effect on the invasive potential of SKOV3 cells as assessed by the migration ability through reconstituted basement membrane, and further investigated whether TGFbeta1 may act through modulating the MMP activity to affect ovarian cancer cell invasion. The results show that TGFbeta1 stimulated the invasive behavior of SKOV3 cells, and that MMP inhibitor BB3103 abrogated this effect of TGFbeta1. In conclusion, this study indicates that TGFbeta1 may act partly through stimulating the secretion of MMP in promoting the invasive behavior of human ovarian cancer cells. Furthermore, this work supports the idea that specific MMP inhibitors of the hydroxamate class could be therapeutically useful in controlling cancer cell invasion/metastasis.