Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) play an important role in inflammation, tumor cell invasion, and metastasis. We found that phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate (PMA)-stimulated invasion of the hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) SNU-387 and SNU-398 cells and that PMA induced the secretion of MMP-9 in the cells, but did not induce the secretion of MMP-2. The PMA-induced MMP-9 secretion was abolished by treatment of a pan-protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor, GF109203X, and an inhibitor of NF-kappaB activation, sulfasalazine, and partly inhibited by treatment of inhibitors of ERK pathway, PD98059 and U0126. In addition, the PMA-stimulated activation of the MMP-9 promoter was completely inhibited by a mutation of the NF-kappaB site within the MMP-9 promoter, but not completely by mutations of two AP-1 sites. Moreover, the MMP-9 induction by HGF and TNF-alpha was also completely inhibited by GF109203X and sulfasalazine, but not by PD98059 and U0126. These data demonstrate that the PKC-dependent NF-kappaB activation is absolute for MMP-9 induction and that the PKC-dependent ERK activation devotes to increase the expression level of MMP-9, in HCC cells.