Cells of keratoconus corneas have been reported to produce higher levels of collagenolytic/gelatinolytic enzymatic activities than do cells of normal corneas. The current study investigates the contribution of 1) specific enzyme gene products, and 2) the degree to which these proteins are present in the activated forms, to the increased enzymatic activities. We demonstrate that two neutral gelatinolytic enzymes, a 66/59 kD form and a 92 kD form, can be directly extracted from both normal and keratoconus corneas. These enzymes are identified as the pro- and activated forms of MMP-2 and as the pro-form of MMP-9, specific members of the matrix metalloproteinase family. Normal and keratoconus corneas show no significant differences in amounts or types of extractable neutral gelatinases, nor in the amounts or types that they synthesize in culture. Furthermore, in both the normal and keratoconus corneas, gelatinases are found primarily in the inactive form. These studies suggest the possible importance of changes in proteinase inhibitor levels to the characteristic biochemical features of keratoconus corneas.