Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 (TIMP-2), a protease inhibitor that binds to the latent and active forms of 72 kDa type IV collagenase (gelatinase A), was found to inhibit the in vitro proliferation of human microvascular endothelial (HME) cells stimulated with bFGF and 5% serum. The maximal inhibitory effect of TIMP-2 on incorporation of 3H-thymidine was evident 24 hours after bFGF stimulation of these cells and ranged between 45 and 60%. The half-maximal effective concentration of TIMP-2 was 107 +/- 12 nM (S.D.). In contrast, TIMP-1 was not found to slow the growth of HME cells. The inhibition of cell proliferation observed with TIMP-2 was not mimicked by addition to the culture medium of BB94, a general matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor, nor antibodies to the 72 kDa type IV collagenase. In addition to growth, two other cell functions associated with the angiogenic process were tested for sensitivity to TIMP-2. Cell adhesion to tissue culture plastic was slightly stimulated by TIMP-2, and cell migration was inhibited with short-term exposure to TIMP-2, but neither process was affected by longer-term exposure. The ability of TIMP-2 to inhibit cultured endothelial cell proliferation independent of protease inhibitory activity suggests that TIMP-2 may have additional actions which may limit neovascularization associated with solid tumor growth and metastasis in vivo.