The metastatic potential of tumors is dependent on the ability of tumor cells to degrade extracellular matrix components by the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and to induce vascularisation of the tumor tissue. Thus, expression of MMPs and the number of blood vessel in tumor tissue may serve as prognostic markers of aggressive and metastasizing tumor growth. We have determined the vascularisation and the expression of MMP-2 by immuno-histochemical staining of 19 benign and 75 malignant breast tissue specimens with CD31- and MMP-2 specific antisera. The degree of vascularisation was expressed by intratumoral microvascular density (IMD), which takes into account all vessels present in a hot spot irrespective of their size. In addition, we have introduced a novel parameter, vascular grading (VG), which describes the percentage of small microvessels of <20 microm in diameter in the total number of blood vessels. IMD tended to indicate an elevated risk for metastasis formation and disease recurrence, while VG did not correlate with metastasis formation. Similarly, MMP-2 expression neither correlated with the clinical outcome of the disease nor with the classical histo-pathological parameters such as stage, grade, lymph node involvement and estrogen receptor status. Tumor cell-specific MMP-2 expression, however, showed a highly significant correlation with VG but not with IMD. These results indicate that MMP-2 expression is rather involved in the formation of small capillaries than in vessel maturation and tumor cell invasion. Thus, MMP-2 expression by tumor cells may serve as indicator of strong angiogenic induction potential of breast tumor cells.