Results of recent studies reveal vascular and neuroprotective effects of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) inhibition and MMP-9 gene deletion in experimental stroke. However, the cellular source of MMP-9 produced in the ischemic brain and the mechanistic basis of MMP-9-mediated brain injury require elucidation. In the present study, we used MMP-9-/- mice and chimeric knockouts lacking either MMP-9 in leukocytes or in resident brain cells to test the hypothesis that MMP-9 released from leukocytes recruited to the brain during postischemic reperfusion contributes to this injury phenotype. We also tested the hypothesis that MMP-9 promotes leukocyte recruitment to the ischemic brain and thus is proinflammatory. The extent of blood-brain barrier (BBB) breakdown, the neurological deficit, and the volume of infarction resulting from transient focal stroke were abrogated to a similar extent in MMP-9-/- mice and in chimeras lacking leukocytic MMP-9 but not in chimeras with MMP-9-containing leukocytes. Zymography and Western blot analysis from these chimeras confirmed that the elevated MMP-9 expression in the brain at 24 h of reperfusion is derived largely from leukocytes. MMP-9-/- mice exhibited a reduction in leukocyte-endothelial adherence and a reduction in the number of neutrophils plugging capillaries and infiltrating the ischemic brain during reperfusion; microvessel immunopositivity for collagen IV was also preserved in these animals. These latter results document proinflammatory actions of MMP-9 in the ischemic brain. Overall, our findings implicate leukocytes, most likely neutrophils, as a key cellular source of MMP-9, which, in turn, promotes leukocyte recruitment, causes BBB breakdown secondary to microvascular basal lamina proteolysis, and ultimately contributes to neuronal injury after transient focal stroke.