Antibodies were raised against seven major matrix metalloproteinases: stromelysin-1 (MMP-3), stromelysin-2 (MMP-10), stromelysin-3 (MMP-11), interstitial collagenase (MMP-1), M(r) 72,000 type IV collagenase (72 kDa type IV collagenase, MMP-2), M(r) 92,000 type IV collagenase (92 kDa type IV collagenase, MMP-9) and matrilysin (PUMP, MMP-7) as well as against prolyl 4-hydroxylase, to study the expression of these collagenolytic enzymes in normal liver in relation to the activity of collagen synthesis. Tissue samples of four normal human livers, three hepatocellular carcinomas and one cholangiocellular carcinoma were analysed. In normal liver we found expression of stromelysin-1, stromelysin-3, interstitial collagenase, M(r) 72,000 and M(r) 92,000 type IV collagenases and varying expression of prolyl 4-hydroxylase. Stromelysin-2 was inconsistently detectable; matrilysin was not found. In hepatocellular carcinoma the expression pattern of matrix metalloproteinases showed only minor changes compared with the normal tissue; stronger signals than in normal tissue were seen for stromelysin-1, and stromelysin-2 was also strongly positive. M(r) 72,000 and M(r) 92,000 type IV collagenases and interstitial collagenase were less strongly expressed; stromelysin-3 was unchanged. Expression of prolyl 4-hydroxylase was also increased compared with normal liver. Matrilysin was only seen in cholangiocellular carcinoma, which showed a completely different pattern of matrix metalloproteinase expression. Our results show that metalloproteinases are expressed in human liver with much greater abundance than previously described. Their expression pattern is not changed fundamentally in hepatocellular carcinoma but is completely different from that of other tumour tissues such as cholangiocellular carcinoma.