Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are an at least 23 member family of calcium and zinc dependent enzymes implicated in many physiological and pathological processes. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema are diseases associated with an inflammation of the airways and lung parenchyma. In this review, we focus on the role played by MMPs in the pathogenesis of inflammation, airway remodelling and alveolar destruction, depicting the observational studies in humans and the experimental studies in animal models. During the course of asthma, MMP-2,-8,-9 and TIMP-1 are expressed at baseline and the allergen exposure or exacerbations of the disease lead to an increase of MMP-9 secretion being at this time much higher than that of TIMP-1, allowing temporarily a matrix damage, possibly followed by abnormal repair. Animal models suggest a predominant role for MMP-9 and MMP-12 in the pathogenesis of pulmonary inflammation and link an absence of MMP-2 to an increased parenchymal inflammation. In COPD and emphysema, human studies indicate an over-secretion of MMP-2,-8,-9 and animal models pointout MMP-1 and MMP-12 as being key players in the pathogenesis of emphysema. Taken together, these data identify specific MMP inhibition as appropriate target for therapeutic intervention in asthma or COPD/emphysema They also strongly argue against the widespread use of large spectrum non specific inhibitors that could be detrimental.