Activated dendritic epidermal Langerhans cells and metastatic tumour cells share many properties. Both cell types can invade the surrounding tissue, enter the lymphatic system and travel to regional lymph nodes. We have recently shown that fragments of the extracellular matrix component hyaluronan, which are typically produced at sites of inflammation, can activate dendritic cells. Upon activation, dendritic cells upregulate expression of matrix metalloproteases (MMPs). These observations prompted us to investigate whether exposure to hyaluronan fragments also induces MMP expression in tumour cells. Here, we report that MMP-9, MMP-13 and urokinase plasminogen activator are upregulated in murine 3LL tumour cells after exposure to mixed-size hyaluronan. Similarly upregulated MMP-9 and MMP-13 expression was observed in primary fibroblasts. By using size-fractionated hyaluronan preparations, we show that the enhanced expression of MMP-9 and MMP-13 is only induced by small hyaluronan (HA) fragments. Although our data suggest that HA-fragment-induced MMP-9 and MMP-13 expression is receptor mediated, they rule out an involvement of the hyaluronan receptors CD44, RHAMM/IHAP and TLR-4. Finally, we show that HA fragment-induced MMP-9 transcription is mediated via NF-kappa B. Our results suggest that the metastasis-associated HA degradation in tumours might promote invasion by inducing MMP expression.