In the present study we investigated, by means of zymography and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), the expression of different matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and of the specific tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases [TIMPs] in human cell lines derived from normal thyrocytes (HTU5), follicular adenoma (HTU42), and follicular (FTC-133), papillary (B-CPAP), and anaplastic (CAL-62, 8305C) thyroid carcinomas. We demonstrated that normal thyrocytes constitutively express MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-10, MMP-14, and TIMP-1, TIMP-2, TIMP-3, and TIMP-4, and this pattern of expression is profoundly modified in all thyroid tumor-derived cell lines. Analysis of the gelatinolytic activity in the different cell supernatants showed that the expressions of MMP-2 and MMP-9 are, respectively, increased or induced in all the neoplastic cell lines, except in CAL-62. Caseinolytic activity was found only in the supernatants of the 8305C and B-CPAP cells. Using RTPCR analysis we detected an increased expression of MMP-1 in cell lines derived from papillary and from one (8305C) of the two anaplastic carcinomas. MMP-13 mRNA was expressed only in the 8305C, FTC-133, and BCPAP cells. Among stromelysins, MMP-3 mRNA could not be detected in any cell line, while MMP-10 mRNA was expressed in all of them, although at variable levels. MMP-11 mRNA was absent in normal and follicular adenoma derived thyrocytes and induced in all carcinoma cell types. The expression of MMP-14 (MT1-MMP) mRNA was found significantly increased in all thyroid tumor cell lines with respect to HTU5 and HTU42 cells. The expression of TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 mRNAs was maintained in all cell lines tested, while that of TIMP-3 was lost in both anaplastic carcinoma cell lines and that of TIMP-4 was absent in the CAL-62. In conclusion, our data demonstrated a differential expression of MMPs and TIMPs in different thyroid tumor cell types with respect to normal thyrocytes. In particular, the induction of MMP-11 in all thyroid-derived carcinoma cell lines studied and of MMP-13 in all but one may represent, if confirmed in other thyroid tumor-derived cell lines and in thyroid tumor tissues, a new marker of thyrocyte transformation.