Stromelysin-3 (ST3) is a matrix metalloproteinase expressed in human carcinomas in ways suggesting that it may play a role in tumor progression. To test this possibility, we have performed gene transfer experiments using both anti-sense and sense ST3 expression vectors, and malignant cells either expressing (NIH 3T3 fibroblasts) or not (MCF7 epithelial cells) endogenous ST3. We have compared the ability of parental and transfected cells to cause subcutaneous tumor development in nude mice. 3T3 cells expressing anti-sense ST3 RNA showed reduced tumorigenicity, and MCF7 cells expressing mouse or human ST3 were associated with reduced tumor-free period leading to a significant increased tumor incidence(P<10(-4)). However, once established, the ST3 expressing tumors did not grow faster than those obtained with the parental MCF7 cell line. In addition, tumors obtained after sub-cutaneous injection of ST3-expressing or nonexpressing cells did not exhibit obvious histological differences, and careful examination did not reveal any local invasive tissue areas nor systemic metastases. These in vivo observations were in agreement with those obtained in vitro showing that ST3 expression did not modify proliferative nor invasive properties of transfected cells. Altogether, these results indicate that ST3 expression promotes tumor take in nude mice, presumably by favoring cancer cell survival in a tissue environment initially not permissive for tumor growth. These findings represent the first experimental evidence showing that ST3 can modulate cancer progression.