We have examined the expression of 2 tumor-associated metalloproteinases, MMP-2 and MMP-9, in 48 primary cultures of prostatic carcinoma (PRCA) and 33 cultures of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). PRCA cultures secrete significantly more MMP-9 than their benign counterparts. Secreted MMP-2 did not differ significantly in cultures but was lower in PRCA cultures. Two cultures of benign origin exhibited high MMP-9 secretion and growth patterns consistent with a malignancy. Both cases were followed and successively re-evaluated histologically and rediagnosed as organ-confined PRCA. MMP expression in culture may be of predictive value in the identification of incidental PRCA. MMP-9 secretion and its ratio with MMP-2 were highest in epithelial cultures from invasive, metastatic tumors when compared both to disease confined to prostate gland and to locally extensive disease. MMP-9 secretion was greatest also in cultures derived from tissues of high Gleason histological grade. Active MMP-9 species were detected in 15 cultures (31%) of PRCA. Active MMP-2 species were observed in cultures of both BPH and PRCA origin in almost the same amounts. Although average levels were not significantly different, as a ratio to proform species, a significant elevation was observed in cultures of PRCA origin. We propose, therefore, that an elevated expression of MMP-9 and a high ratio of MMP-9 to MMP-2 in short-term prostate epithelial cultures is of potential diagnostic and prognostic significance.