Metalloproteinases are thought to be important for tumor invasion and metastasis. We used in situ hybridization with 35S-labeled cRNA probes to localize sites of expression for 92-kDa type IV collagenase mRNA in sections of nodular basal cell carcinoma. Positive signal for 92-kDa type IV collagenase mRNA was detected in eosinophilic granulocytes within inflammatory infiltrates surrounding the tumor nodules. Eosinophils, however, were not adjacent to tumor cells, suggesting that metalloenzyme production by these granulocytes in this disease may be targeted more to stromal components than to remodeling or destruction of the basement lamina. The identity of the eosinophils was confirmed by cell morphology and specific histochemical staining. No resident or other migratory cells were positive for enzyme mRNA in these samples. Signal specificity for in situ hybridization was shown by a duplication of the results with complementary oligomeric probes and by a lack of signal in sections hybridized with a sense RNA probe or nonspecific oligomer. No signal for 92-kDa type IV collagenase mRNA was detected in circulating eosinophils or in eosinophils associated with Hodgkin's lymphoma. These data suggest that eosinophils migrate into the dermis and express type IV collagenase in response to basal cell carcinoma and that this process may have a role in tumor growth.