Matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) are a family of proteolytic enzymes that mediate the degradation of extracellular matrix macromolecules, including interstitial and basement membrane collagens, fibronectin, laminin, and proteoglycan core protein. The enzymes are secreted or released in latent form and become activated in the pericellular environment by disruption of a Zn(++)-cysteine bond which blocks the reactivity of the active site. The major cell types in inflamed and healthy periodontal tissues (fibroblasts, keratinocytes, endothelial cells, and macrophages) are capable of responding to growth factors and cytokines, as well as to products released from the microbial flora by induction of transcription of 1 or more MMP genes. Cytokines that are likely to regulate expression of MMP genes in periodontal tissues include IL-1, TNF-alpha, and TGF-alpha. In addition, triggered PMN leukocytes which express only 2 MMP (PMN-CL and Mr 92K GL) release these enzymes from specific granule storage sites in response to a number of stimuli. The evidence that MMP are involved in tissue destruction in human periodontal diseases is still indirect and circumstantial. Cells isolated from normal and inflamed gingiva are capable of expressing a wide complement of MMP in culture and several MMP can be detected in cells of human gingiva in vivo. In addition, PMN-CL and Mr 92K GL are readily detected in gingival crevicular fluid from gingivitis and periodontitis patients. Osteoclastic bone resorption does not appear to directly involve MMP, but a body of evidence suggests that bone resorption is initiated by removal of the osteoid layer by osteoblasts by means of a collagenase-dependent process.