Endometriosis is subsequent to the ability of endometrial glands to invade normal tissues. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs)--enzymes that mediate normal tissue turnover, including endometrial breakdown during menstruation-appear to be involved in this invasive process. Here, we examined the immunohistochemical expression of MMP-2, MMP-3, MMP-11, tissue inhibitor metalloproteinase (TIMP)-1 and TIMP-2 in endometrium from women with (n=9) or without endometriosis (n=18) in comparison with peritoneal (n=20), ovarian (n=20) and colorectal endometriosis (n=20). Women with endometriosis showed decreased endometrial MMP-2 expression compared with women without endometriosis (mean+/-SD positive cells: 24.3+/-28.3% and 69.3+/-12.1%), together with loss of MMP-3 expression (0 versus 17.5%+/-20.2). MMP-11, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 expression was similar in the two groups. Endometrial MMP-2, -3 and -11 expression and TIMP-1 and -2 expression were similar in women with endometriosis and in those with peritoneal endometriosis. MMP-2, -3 and -11 expression was higher in colorectal endometriosis than in ovarian and peritoneal endometriosis. TIMP-2 expression was lower in colorectal endometriosis (P=0.0002) and ovarian endometriotic cysts (P=0.003) than in peritoneal endometriosis. TIMP-1 expression did not vary according to the location of endometriotic lesions. These results suggest that MMP-2 and -3 and TIMP-2 may be involved in the pathogenesis of endometriosis. Interestingly, MMP-2 and -3 overexpression was related to the infiltrative nature of endometriotic lesions, with possible sequential expression from peritoneal to colorectal endometriosis.