Increased collagenase activity in colorectal carcinomas has recently been shown to be associated with increased malignant potential. To determine the tissue distribution of collagenase and its specific inhibitor, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP), we carried out an immunohistochemical study on colorectal carcinomas (n = 20), adenomas (n = 7) and normal mucosa (n = 6). We found increased staining for collagenase in the connective tissue stroma of carcinomas, as compared with adenomas and normal mucosa. Little evidence of epithelial cell staining for collagenase was seen in any tissue. In carcinomas, both stromal fibroblasts and collagen fibres stained strongly and stromal staining was strongest close to neoplastic glands. Vascular staining was more prominent in neoplastic than normal tissues, perhaps reflecting the increased proteolytic activity during tumour angiogenesis. The pattern of TIMP immunostaining was similar to that of collagenase, although basement membrane staining for TIMP was generally more intense. Another difference was that, unlike TIMP, staining for collagenase was often increased at the invasive edge of carcinomas, perhaps reflecting increased collagenase activity at this location.