Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) together degrade virtually all the components of the extracellular matrix and are likely to play a role in remodeling of endometrial tissue during the normal menstrual cycle. Primary cultures of human endometrial stromal cells secreted a number of MMPs. MMP-1 (interstitial collagenase) and MMP-3 (stromelysin-1) were measured in culture medium by specific enzyme assays. Production of the enzymes did not correlate with the time of the menstrual cycle at which the tissue was collected. Identities of MMP-1 and MMP-3 were confirmed by Western blots, by comparison of mol wt with those of purified enzymes on casein zymography, and by inhibition of these activities with EDTA and 1,10-phenanthroline. Northern analysis demonstrated specific messenger ribonucleic acid for pro-MMP-1 and pro-MMP-3 in phorbol myristate acetate-stimulated stromal cells. Two gelatinases were detected by gelatin zymography: MMP-2 (gelatinase-A) was present in two forms (72 and 67 kilodaltons), and MMP-9 (gelatinase-B) was present as a homodimer with a mol wt of approximately 180 kilodaltons. MMP-9, but not MMP-2, secretion was stimulated by phorbol myristate acetate. All enzymes could be activated in vitro by (4-aminophenyl)mercuric acetate. Both interleukin-1 alpha and tumor necrosis factor-alpha stimulated the secretion of MMP-1, MMP-3, and MMP-9, but not MMP-2, from the cells in a concentration-dependent manner. MMP production by endometrial stromal cells has a potentially important role in the processes of menstruation and implantation.