In view of the important role of interstitial collagenase in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we studied the expression of fibroblast-type collagenase in rheumatoid synovium and searched for its potential transcription factors, namely the oncoprotein c-fos and the early-growth-response gene-1 (egr-1), an inducible zinc-finger encoding gene. Elevated levels of RNA sequences complimentary to c-fos and egr-1 cDNA probes could be detected in cytoplasmic extracts of collagenase-expressing synovial fibroblast-like cells when compared to equivalent RNA amounts isolated from control fibroblasts. Utilizing immunocytochemistry, immunoreactivity for c-fos oncoprotein was found in 13 of 19 joint specimens obtained from patients with active RA. These oncoprotein data were positively correlated to the collagenase expression in the same specimens. Moreover, immunohistochemical analysis confirmed the localization of both oncoprotein c-fos and fibroblast-type collagenase within synovial fibroblast-like cells attached to bone erosions.