Matrix metalloproteinase activity is the rate-limiting step in extracellular matrix degradation. One mechanism by which metalloproteinases are regulated is through the activity of their endogenous inhibitors, the tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases. Since metalloproteinase activity is a key component of the angiogenic process and many anterior segment structures are largely avascular, we became interested in examining aqueous humor for the presence of metalloproteinases and their endogenous inhibitors. Using zymography, we have identified the presence of several metalloproteinases in normal aqueous humor. Treatment with 4-aminophenylmercuric acetate, an organomercurial which activates latent metalloproteinases, revealed that all metalloproteinases were in their active state. By Western blot analysis, normal aqueous humor was also found to contain at least two tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases. Subsequent partial purification by two successive chromatographic steps revealed the presence of inhibitory activity against collagenase, endothelial cell DNA synthesis, and angiogenesis on the chick chorioallantoic membrane. The presence of metalloproteinases and their inhibitors in normal aqueous humor, a fluid which bathes avascular ocular structures, suggests that future studies should examine whether an imbalance in this protease/inhibitor family may contribute to the anterior chamber extracellular matrix alterations associated with diseases such as ocular neovascularization and glaucoma.