Metastatic dissemination is the primary cause of death in ovarian cancer (OvCa) patients, and dissemination to pleural and peritoneal effusions is a common clinical event. Effusion samples were collected from 15 OvCa patients. Twenty-six samples were collected prospectively, two were archival, and eight were taken from patients with other malignancies. Twenty-nine samples were from malignant ascites, and seven specimens were pleural fluids. In addition, six ascites and two pleural fluids from noncancer patients were studied as effusion controls. Effusion supernatants were tested for migration-stimulation activity, using A2058 human melanoma cells as the index responder cell. Malignant samples induced a 400-1200% increase in migration. Sixty percent of the migration was inhibited by incubation of the malignant fluid with antifibronectin (FN) antibody, in contrast to 75% inhibition of control fluid-stimulated migration (P = 0.017). Gelatin zymography and Western blot analyses showed that latent and activated MMP-2 and MMP-9 collagenases, and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 (TIMP-2) were present in all malignant fluids. Serial samples were taken from several patients, and a trend for correlation between MMPs and clinical behavior of the tumors was shown. Free TIMP-2 correlated with CA-125 levels in two patients for whom serial samples were available. The demonstration of promigratory and proinvasive activity in malignant effusions is consistent with their association with other metastatic disease in OvCa patients and their function as a haven for metastatic cells.