Matrix metalloproteinases play an important regulatory role in tissue morphogenesis, cell differentiation and motility, and tumor cell invasiveness. We have recently demonstrated elevated activity of the 92 kDa type IV collagenase (MMP-9) in human glioblastoma and in the present study examine the relative amounts of MMP-9 protein and mRNA in human gliomas and as well as the distribution of MMP-9 in human glioma tumors in vivo. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for the quantitative determination of MMP-9 protein, we found that levels were significantly higher in malignant astrocytomas, especially in glioblastoma multiforme, than in normal brain tissues and low-grade gliomas. In addition, the amount of MMP-9 mRNA, as determined by northern blot analysis was higher in anaplastic astrocytomas and glioblastoma multiforme than in normal brain tissue and low-grade gliomas. Immunocytochemical staining for MMP-9 showed strong cytoplasmic immunoreactivity in the tumor cells and the proliferating endothelial cells of glioblastoma multiforme and anaplastic astrocytomas. The staining intensity was lowe in low-grade astrocytomas, and was undetectable or very low in normal brain astrocytes. The results indicate that expression of MMP-9 is dramatically upregulated in highly malignant gliomas and correlates with the highly malignant progression of human gliomas in vivo, and support a role for the MMP-9 in facilitating the invasiveness seen in malignant gliomas in vivo.