We examined the common signal transduction mechanisms governing collagenase (MMP-1), stromelysin-1 (MMP-3), and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases (TIMP-1) gene expression in human synovial fibroblasts for insight into the pathophysiology of arthritis. MMP-1, MMP-3, and TIMP-1 expression and synthesis were induced in cultured human synoviocytes with recombinant human interleukin 1 beta in the absence or presence of either chemical inhibitors of protein kinase A and C (PKA, PKC), or prostaglandin E2, or cyclic AMP (cAMP) mimetics. We used enzyme immunoassays (EIA) to determine MMP-1, MMP-3, and TIMP-1 antigen levels in spent culture medium and Northern hybridization to measure steady state mRNA expression levels. Extracellular signals (e.g., IL-1, phorbol myristic acetate) that result in the activation of cytoplasmic PKC augment in tandem the expression and synthesis of MMP-1, MMP-3, and TIMP-1 in human synovial fibroblasts. In addition, such signals induce nuclear transcription factors (e.g., activator protein 1) that bind to common gene regulatory elements and augment promoter activity of MMP-1, MMP-3, and TIMP-1 gene promoter constructs. In contrast, signals that activate PKA oppose PKC mediated signals, in that the expression of MMP-1, MMP-3, and TIMP-1 are suppressed. Experimental data suggest that the expression of MMP-1, MMP-3, and TIMP-1 are coordinated through a series of common cytoplasmic signal transducing pathways, cis regulatory elements, and nuclear trans acting factors.