A growing body of evidence indicates that matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) play a role in the pathogenesis of COPD. Therefore, we conducted a candidate gene association study of 4 promoter polymorphisms that are known to modify expression levels of the MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-9 genes and a Gln279Arg polymorphism in exon 6 of MMP-9 that modifies the substrate-binding region. We examined the association of each variant and haplotypes in 385 male veterans with greater than 20 pack-years of cigarette smoking whose COPD status was characterized using spirometry. The association of these polymorphisms was also examined with decline of pulmonary function in a subset of participants. Only the 279Arg variant was more common in participants with COPD and the homozygous variant was associated with a 3-fold increased risk for COPD. In the haplotype analysis, the haplotype comprising the 249Arg and the CA promoter polymorphism within the MMP-9 gene was associated with risk, suggesting that either 279Arg or a linked variant on this haplotype underlies the association. No association of this polymorphism was found with decline in pulmonary function. These studies show that variants of the MMP-9 gene are associated with COPD in this cohort of veterans.