Invasion and metastasis are the main causes of death in breast cancer patients. Increased expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), especially gelatinases (MMP-2 and -9), has been closely associated with tumor progression. One of the nuclear hormone receptors (NHR), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma), is a ligand-activated transcriptional factor that regulates cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis in both normal and cancer cells. Recent data indicate that PPARgamma activation by its ligands can also lead to the inhibition of gelatinase B (MMP-9) and the blockage of migration in macrophages and muscle cells, implying the possibility that PPARgamma ligands may possess anti-invasive activities on tumor cells. In this study, we showed that treatment of the highly aggressive human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 with the synthetic PPARgamma ligands pioglitazone (PGZ), rosiglitazone (RGZ), GW7845 or its natural ligand 15-deoxy-delta 12, 14-prostaglandin J2(15d-PGJ2), at concentrations at which no obvious cytotoxicity was observed in vitro, led to a significant inhibition of the invasive capacities of this cell line through a reconstituted basement membrane (Matrigel) in a Transwell chamber model. All-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA), a ligand for retinoic acid receptor (RAR), was also studied and showed a similar inhibitory effect on invasion. Although no change was observed in the expression of MMP-9 after challenge with PPARgamma ligands and/or ATRA on this cell line, the natural tissue inhibitor of gelatinases, namely the tissue inhibitor of MMP 1 (TIMP-1) was upregulated by these treatments and the gelatinolytic activities of gelatinases in the conditioned media were decreased. Since MMP-2 was not detectable in the conditioned media of MDA-MB-231 cells, and the gelatinolytic activities of the conditioned media were reduced only by MMP-9 neutralizing antibodies, it is most likely that the reduction of gelatinolytic activities by PPARgamma ligands and/or ATRA was due to the decrease of MMP-9 activities. Because MMP-9 was absolutely required in the transmigration of this cell line through Matrigel in our in vitro model as demonstrated by neutralizing antibodies against MMP-2 and -9, we concluded that down-regulation of gelatinase activities is, at least in part, responsible for the reduction of the invasive capacities of MDA-MB-231 cell line in vitro. Our results, for the first time, indicate that PPARgamma ligands may have therapeutic value for the treatment of highly invasive breast cancer by targeting its invasive behavior.