To determine if tetracyclines can inhibit human synovial collagenase from rheumatoid tissue, paired synovial tissue (or synovial fluid) was collected from 7 patients before and after oral administration of minocycline (100 mg BID) for 10 days. With each patient serving as his own control, the postminocycline collagenase activities fell an average of 67% from pretreatment values. Qualitative SDS-PAGE revealed decreased loss of alpha collagen components and reduced formation of alpha A digestion fragments. Addition of minocycline or a chemically modified tetracycline to synovial culture media in vitro profoundly inhibited collagenase activity. Further study of this action of tetracyclines could serve as a probe of the role of collagenase in rheumatoid arthritis and lead to development of agents capable of modifying the tissue destructive actions of collagenase.