The matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs) are perceived as essential for tumour invasion and metastasis. In the present study, we compare the topographical pattern of MMP-9 and TIMP-1 expression in colorectal cancer and liver metastasis by in situ hybridisation. TIMP-1 mRNA was detected in all 26 colorectal cancers examined, while only 18 out of 26 (69.2%) were positive for MMP-9. Both MMP-9 and TIMP-1 mRNA were observed in all ten liver metastases but were absent in three adenomas and in all normal colonic mucosa and liver. There was no association between MMP-9 or TIMP-1 mRNA expression and degree of differentiation or size of Tumours. MMP-9 and TIMP-1 mRNA were similarly observed in the peritumour stroma cells rather than in tumour cells themselves. MMP-9 mRNA positive cells were round and identified as macrophages by immunostaining with an anti-macrophage antibody (KP1), while TIMP-1, mRNA was detected in spindle-shaped stromal cells. In liver metastases, MMP-9 localised within peritumour stroma or at the interface between the tumour stroma and normal liver, whereas TIMP-1 mRNA was located throughout the malignant tumour stroma. Our data demonstrate a distinct pattern of MMP-9 and TIMP-1 mRNA expression in colorectal cancer and liver metastases suggesting distinct cellular origins as well as separate patterns of regulation.