Transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) is generally considered to exert positive effects on the accumulation of extracellular matrices. These occur as the net result of enhanced matrix protein synthesis, diminished matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) synthesis, and augmented production of specific inhibitors, including the tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP-1). Given that glomerular TGF-beta 1 synthesis is induced by inflammation, the effects of this cytokine on synthesis of the 72-kd type IV collagenase and TIMP-1 by cultured human mesangial cells were evaluated. Concentrations of TGF-beta 1 of 5 ng/ml and above specifically stimulated the synthesis of the 72-kd type IV collagenase. This effect was independent of the stimulatory effect of TGF-beta 1 on TIMP-1 synthesis, which was maximal in a lower concentration range (0.1 to 1 ng/ml). Most significantly, the net effect at the higher concentrations of TGF-beta 1 was an excess of enzyme over the TIMP-1 inhibitor. Northern blot analysis of TGF-beta 1-stimulated human mesangial cells demonstrated a specific increase in the abundance of the 3.1 kb mRNA transcript encoding the 72-kd type IV collagenase, presumably mediated by a direct stimulation of 72-kd type IV collagenase mRNA transcription observed as early as 3 hours after exposure to TGF-beta 1. These studies were extended to an analysis of the expression of TGF-beta 1 and 72-kd type IV collagenase mRNAs in normal and nephritic rats. In normal animals, basal TGF-beta 1 and 72-kd type IV collagenase mRNA expression was observed in a strictly mesangial distribution. After induction of acute immune complex-mediated glomerulonephritis, there was a major increase in TGF-beta 1 and 72-kd type IV collagenase mRNA expression, which was strictly limited to the expanded, hypercellular mesangial compartment. Enhanced synthesis of the mesangial type IV collagenase in response to TGF-beta 1 released during glomerular inflammatory processes could have an important role in the extensive glomerular matrix remodeling that accompanies these disorders.