Fluid from acute surgical wounds and from nonhealing pressure ulcers was examined for the presence of several matrix metalloproteinases. Gelatin zymography demonstrated the presence of two major gelatinases with apparent molecular masses of 72 kDa and 92 kDa and two minor gelatinases with apparent mobilities of 68 kDa and 125 kDa. Antigen-specific sera identified the 72-kDa protein as matrix melloproteinase-2. The same sera also reacted with the 68-kDa protein, which is consistent with it being an activated form of matrix metalloproteinase-2. Antigen-specific sera identified the 92-kDa and 125-kDa proteins as matrix metalloproteinase-9. Levels of matrix metalloproteinase-2 and matrix metalloproteinase-9 were elevated more than 10-fold and 25-fold, respectively, in fluids from pressure ulcers compared with fluids from healing wounds. Examination of total potential and actual collagenolytic activity revealed that fluid from pressure ulcers contained significantly greater levels of both total and active collagenase compared with that of acute surgical wounds. In addition, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay demonstrated that fluids from pressure ulcers contained significantly more collagenase complexed with the inhibitor, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases. Together, these observations suggest that an imbalance exists between levels of matrix metalloproteinases and their inhibitors in the fluids of pressure ulcers and that this is primarily the result of elevated levels of the matrix metalloproteinases. The presence of excessive levels of activated forms of matrix-degrading enzymes at the wound surface of pressure ulcers may impede the healing of these wounds and may be relevant to the development of new rationales for treatment.