Destructive joint changes in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are thought to be mediated in part by the neutral proteinases collagenase and stromelysin. Collagenase messenger RNA (mRNA) has been previously localized to the synovial lining layer. In this study, synovial tissue from 8 patients with RA and 2 patients with osteoarthritis was examined for proteinase production by in situ hybridization. Stromelysin mRNA localized predominantly to the synovial lining layer cells. In serial sections, collagenase mRNA was shown to be localized to the same tissue areas as those producing stromelysin mRNA, and grain counts revealed a direct correlation between production of stromelysin mRNA and production of collagenase mRNA. All patients with RA were producing collagenase and stromelysin mRNA in detectable amounts. One of 2 osteoarthritis patients was producing these metalloproteinases, but in levels below those found in the RA patients. These data support the identity of the synovial lining cells as the major synovial cells producing collagenase and stromelysin in RA and provide new evidence for the coordinate production of collagenase and stromelysin in RA in vivo.