Studies suggest that the interplay between matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their inhibitors, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) is an important mediator of tumour invasion and metastasis. Using immunohistochemistry, 40 specimens of colorectal cancer were examined for the presence of TIMP-1 and the MMPs, stromelysin, gelatinases A and B and interstitial collagenase. Neither enzyme nor TIMP-1 was detected in histologically normal mucosa. Within malignant tissue, stromelysin and gelatinase A were conspicuously absent in tumor cells but were immunolocalized to the extracellular matrix and for gelatinase A also to peritumoural fibroblast-like cells. Gelatinase B was confined to polymorphonuclear leucocytes. Interstitial collagenase was not identified. TIMP-1 was present in only three of the 40 tumours within the malignant stroma. These observations suggest that the mesenchymal elements of colorectal carcinomas, by acting as a source of MMPs and TIMPs, may modulate tumour invasion.