A number of metalloproteinases that degrade the extracellular matrix of connective tissues and two specific tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) have now been isolated, characterized, and cloned. Comparison of the enzyme sequences has allowed the delineation of domain structures, and initial studies have been carried out to assess the contribution of these domains to their biochemical and biologic properties, including activation, inhibition by TIMPs, and matrix binding. Such events represent the major levels of extracellular regulation of metalloproteinase activity, which is thought to be an important aspect of their control. Activation is probably a cell surface phenomenon, involving the plasminogen activator cascade or other membrane-associated mechanisms. The inhibitory action of TIMPs is postulated to be as important in activation as in the subsequent regulation of enzyme degradation of the matrix.