Several molecular interactions between the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) and the plasminogen/plasmin (fibrinolytic) system may affect cellular fibrinolysis. MMP-3 (stromelysin-1) specifically hydrolyzes urokinase (u-PA), yielding a 17 kD NH2-terminal fragment containing the functionally intact receptor (u-PAR)-binding sequence and a 32 kD COOH-terminal fragment containing the intact serine proteinase domain. MMP-3 generates an angiostatin-like fragment (containing kringles 1-4 with the cellular binding domains) from plasminogen. Treatment with MMP-3 of monocytoid THP-1 cells saturated with bound plasminogen, resulted in a dose-dependent reduction of the amount of u-PA-activatible plasminogen. Treatment with MMP-3 of cell-bound u-PA, in contrast, did not alter cell-associated u-PA activity. These data thus indicate that MMP-3 may downregulate cell-associated plasmin activity by decreasing the amount of activatible plasminogen, without affecting cell-bound u-PA activity. MMP-3 also specifically interacts with the main inhibitors of the fibrinolytic system. Thus, MMP-3 specifically hydrolyzes human alpha2-antiplasmin (alpha2-AP), the main physiological plasmin inhibitor. alpha2-AP cleaved by MMP-3 no longer forms a stable complex with plasmin and no longer interacts with plasminogen. Cleavage and inactivation of alpha2-AP by MMP-3 may constitute a mechanism favoring local plasmin-mediated proteolysis. Furthermore, MMP-3 specifically hydrolyzes and inactivates human plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1). Stable PAI-1 bound to vitronectin is cleaved and inactivated by MMP-3 in a comparable manner as free PAI-1; the cleaved protein, however, does not bind to vitronectin. Cleavage and inactivation of PAI-1 by MMP-3 may thus constitute a mechanism decreasing the antiproteolytic activity of PAI-1 and impairing the potential inhibitory effect of vitronectin-bound PAI-1 on cell adhesion and/or migration. These molecular interactions of MMP-3 with enzymes, substrates and inhibitors of the fibrinolytic system may thus play a role in the regulation of (cellular) fibrinolysis. Furthermore, the temporal and topographic expression pattern of MMP components, as well as studies in gene-deficient mice, suggest a functional role in neointima formation after vascular injury.