Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been shown to be important messenger molecules in the induction of several genes. In human dermal fibroblasts the herbicide paraquat (PQ2+) was used to induce intracellular oxidative stress that was modulated by the inhibition of copper, zinc superoxide dismutase (Cu,ZnSOD), glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx), catalase, and blocking of the Fenton reaction. Interstitial collagenase (MMP-1) mRNA increased time dependently for up to 72 h following paraquat treatment. A correlation with the translation of MMP-1 could, however, only be detected up to 24 h, indicating an uncoupling of transcription and translation. Interleukin-1 alpha and beta mRNA showed two peaks at 6 h and 72 h. The inhibition of catalase by aminotriazol (ATZ), inhibition of GSHPx by buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), and blocking the Fenton reaction by the iron chelator desferrioxamine (DFO) in concert led to an increase in steady-state MMP-1 mRNA levels, possibly dependent on intracellular H2O2 increase. This combined treatment potentiated MMP-1 mRNA induction up to 6.5-fold compared to paraquat treated controls. Furthermore, exogenously added H2O2 caused an increase in MMP-1 mRNA levels. In contrast, inhibition of Cu,ZnSOD by diethyldithiocarbamate (DDC), leading to diminished H2O2 production from O2.-, decreased MMP-1 mRNA induction. Collectively, our data provide evidence that H2O2 is an important intermediate in the downstream signalling pathway finally leading to the induction of increased steady state MMP-1 mRNA levels. The synthesis of MMPs may contribute to connective tissue damage in vivo related to photoaging, inflammatory diseases, and tumor invasion.