Chronic pancreatitis is characterized by proliferation of the extracellular matrix and by increased deposition of interstitial extracellular matrix proteins (collagens type I and III, fibronectin). In this study we analyzed the balance of expression of mRNAs encoding extracellular matrix components (collagens I, III and IV, laminin, fibronectin), extracellular matrix degrading metalloproteinases (MMP-1, -2 and -3) and tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMP-1 and -2) in chronic pancreatitis (n = 8) and control pancreas (n = 7) by northern blot analysis. Transcripts for MMP-1 (interstitial collagenase), MMP-3 (stromelysin) and TIMP-1 were not detectable in chronic pancreatitis and control tissues. Steady-state levels of transcripts encoding extracellular matrix proteins, MMP-2 (72 kDa collagenase IV) and TIMP-2 were enhanced in 7 out of 8 chronic pancreatitis tissue samples and showed a large degree of variation between individual patients. Transcript levels could not be correlated to the histologically detectable degree of inflammation and fibrosis or to the total amount of deposited collagen protein, which was high in all chronic pancreatitis tissue samples as determined by a standard colorimetric procedure. Increased steady state levels of transcripts encoding extracellular matrix proteins or extracellular matrix degrading proteases may thus reflect the activity of processes involved in the remodeling of the gland during chronic inflammation. The precise role of overexpression of MMP-2 and its inhibitor TIMP-2 will have to be elucidated in further studies.