Treatment with interferon beta-1b has substantial clinical benefit in the demyelinating disease multiple sclerosis, yet the mechanism of action in the disease remains largely unknown. Gelatinase A (matrix metalloproteinase-2, 72-kd gelatinase) and B (matrix metalloproteinase-9, 92-kd gelatinase) are matrix metalloproteinases capable of enzymatic digestion of subendothelial basement membrane constituents. In human T cells, interleukin-2 induces gelatinase secretion and enhances gelatinase-dependent migration across an artificial basement membrane-like layer in vitro. Pretreatment of T cells with interferon beta-1b for 48 hours decreased interleukin-2-induced gelatinase production and secretion as determined by zymography. In parallel to the downregulation of gelatinase secretion, pretreatment with interferon beta-1b inhibited T-cell migration across the basement membrane in vitro by up to 90%, but had only a minor impact on cell locomotion per se. For both gelatinase secretion and T-cell migration, the inhibitory effect mediated by exposure to interferon beta-1b was dose dependent. Fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis also showed that interferon beta-1b downregulates the interleukin-2 receptor alpha-chain and lowered the affinity of interleukin-2 to the cell surface by 30%, which may represent an additional mechanism for the observed effects of interferon beta-1b. The dramatic effects of interferon beta-1b on gelatinase expression and migration raise the possibility that its beneficial effects in multiple sclerosis may result from interference with the capacity of activated T cells to traverse the basement membrane and migrate to the central nervous system.