Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) of the head and neck are characterized by a high tendency for local invasion and metastasis to lymph nodes. Collagenase-3 (MMP-13) is specifically expressed by tumor cells in SCCs of the head and neck and its expression correlates with their invasion capacity. To specifically examine the role of MMP-13 in the growth and invasion of SCC, we constructed a hammerhead ribozyme targeted against human MMP-13 mRNA. The anti-MMP-13 ribozyme effectively cleaved MMP-13 transcripts in vitro. Adenoviral delivery of the anti-MMP-13 ribozyme to cutaneous metastatic SCC cells in culture resulted in potent and specific inhibition of the production of proMMP-13 and markedly suppressed invasion of SCC cells through Matrigel. In addition, adenoviral delivery of anti-MMP-13 ribozyme promoted apoptosis in SCC cells within 72 h. Intratumoral injection of anti-MMP-13 ribozyme coding adenovirus into human SCC xenografts established in SCID mice potently suppressed tumor growth, inhibited MMP-13 expression and gelatinolytic activity and reduced the number of proliferating cells within the tumors. These results provide evidence for an important role for MMP-13 in SCC growth and invasion and identify MMP-13 as a promising target for ribozyme-based therapy of SCC in vivo.