Tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteases 1 (TIMP-1) inhibits the proteolytic activity of matrix metalloproteases and hereby prevents cancer invasion. However, TIMP-1 also possesses other functions such as inhibition of apoptosis, induction of malignant transformation and stimulation of cell-growth. We have previously demonstrated that TIMP-1 is elevated in blood from colorectal cancer patients and that high TIMP-1 levels predict poor prognosis. To clarify the role of TIMP-1 in colorectal tumorigenesis, the expression pattern of TIMP-1 in benign and malignant colorectal tumors was studied. In all of 24 cases of colorectal adenocarcinoma TIMP-1 mRNA was detected by in situ hybridization. In all cases TIMP-1 expression was found in fibroblast-like cells located at the invasive front but was seen only sporadically in normal mucosa. No TIMP-1 mRNA was seen in any of the cases in benign or malignant epithelial cells, in vascular cells or smooth muscle cells. Comparison of sections processed for TIMP-1 in situ hybridization with sections immunohistochemically stained with antibodies against TIMP-1 showed good correlation between TIMP-1 mRNA and immunoreactivity. Combining TIMP-1 in situ hybridization with immunohistochemical staining for alpha-smooth muscle actin or CD68 showed TIMP-1 mRNA in myofibroblasts but not in macrophages. TIMP-1 mRNA was detected in 2 of 7 adenomatous polyps in the adenoma area: in both cases associated with focal stromal inflammation at the epithelial-stromal interface. In conclusion, TIMP-1 expression is a rare event in benign human colon tissue but is highly expressed by myofibroblasts in association with invading colon cancer cells.