Dendritic cells (DCs) have an essential role in the initiation of immune responses as they deliver antigen/epitope and the appropriate signals to activate naïve T cells and thus start an immune response. In order to fulfil their function, DCs have to patrol different part of the body, thus migrating through the extracellular matrix to sample the local 'antigenic' environment. In the present study, we have investigated which enzymes might be involved in this process using the Matrigel trans-well migration assay, an in vitro model of extracellular matrix migration. In this assay we analysed the migratory ability of interleukin-4 (IL-4)/granulocyte macrophage-colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF)-derived immature DCs as well as mature DCs, induced by tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA). The 'mature' DCs showed an increased migration through Matrigel, which was significantly inhibited by inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP). We also observed that the dominant MMP involved in this process was MMP-9, and a concomitant decrease of the endogenous tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-1 and TIMP-2 was also observed. Collectively these data suggest that the balance between MMP/TIMP determines the net migratory capacity of human DCs. Surprisingly, TIMP-3 was significantly increased in mature DC. Our data thus indicate that MMP and TIMP play a role in the migratory ability of human DCs. Our results also suggest that TIMP-3 expression might represent a new marker of maturation of human DCs.