In this study, in situ hybridization techniques were used to determine the location of interstitial collagenase and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP) gene expression in samples from 11 squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (particularly the oral cavity) and from non-neoplastic mucosa of the same region. Ten of the 11 carcinomas examined showed abundant levels of collagenase gene expression in stromal fibroblasts within connective tissues immediately adjacent to tumor masses. Lower levels were detected in basaloid tumor cells located at the periphery of several tumor masses. Interstitial collagenase expression was consistently low in all normal, hyperplastic, and dysplastic epithelial sections. TIMP gene expression was negligible in all tissues examined. These results support the view that stromal interstitial collagenase production may play a key role in assisting invasiveness of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.