We recently demonstrated that luteal cells flow out from the ovary via lymphatic vessels during luteolysis. However, the regulatory mechanisms of the outflow of luteal cells are not known. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) can degrade the extracellular matrix and basal membrane, and tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases (TIMPs) inhibit the activity of MMPs. To test the hypothesis that MMP expression in luteal cells is regulated by luteolytic factors, we investigated the effects of prostaglandin F2α (PGF), interferon γ (IFNG) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNF) on the mRNA expression of MMPs and TIMPs in cultured luteal cells. Luteal cells obtained from the CL at the mid-luteal stage (days 8-12 after ovulation) were cultured with PGF (0.01, 0.1, 1 μM), IFNG (0.05, 0.5, 5 nM) and TNF (0.05, 0.5, 0.5 nM) alone or in combination for 24 h. PGF and IFNG significantly increased the expression of MMP-1 mRNA. In addition, 1 μM PGF in combination with 5 nM IFNG stimulated MMP-1 and MMP-9 mRNA expression significantly more than either treatment alone. In contrast, IFNG significantly decreased the level of MMP-14 mRNA. The mRNA expression of TIMP-1, which preferentially inhibits MMP-1, was suppressed by 5 nM INFG. One μM PGF and 5 nM IFNG suppressed TIMP-2 mRNA expression. These results suggest a new role of MMPs: luteal MMPs stimulated by PGF and IFNG break down the extracellular matrix surrounding luteal cells, which accelerates detachment from the CL during luteolysis, providing an essential prerequisite for outflow of luteal cells from the CL to lymphatic vessels.