The irreversible destruction of the cartilage, tendon, and bone that comprise synovial joints is the hallmark of both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). While cartilage is made up of proteoglycans and type II collagen, tendon and bone are composed primarily of type I collagen. RA is an autoimmune disease afflicting numerous joints throughout the body; in contrast, OA develops in a small number of joints, usually resulting from chronic overuse or injury. In both diseases, inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) stimulate the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), enzymes that can degrade all components of the extracellular matrix. The collagenases, MMP-1 and MMP-13, have predominant roles in RA and OA because they are rate limiting in the process of collagen degradation. MMP-1 is produced primarily by the synovial cells that line the joints, and MMP-13 is a product of the chondrocytes that reside in the cartilage. In addition to collagen, MMP-13 also degrades the proteoglycan molecule, aggrecan, giving it a dual role in matrix destruction. Expression of other MMPs such as MMP-2, MMP-3 and MMP-9, is also elevated in arthritis and these enzymes degrade non-collagen matrix components of the joints. Significant effort has been expended in attempts to design effective inhibitors of MMP activity and/or synthesis with the goal of curbing connective tissues destruction within the joints. To date, however, no effective clinical inhibitors exist. Increasing our knowledge of the crystal structures of these enzymes and of the signal transduction pathways and molecular mechanisms that control MMP gene expression may provide new opportunities for the development of therapeutics to prevent the joint destruction seen in arthritis.