Membrane-type matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MT1-MMP) has been recently described as an activator of proMMP-2 (MMP-2) which is involved in tumor invasion. We have shown by in situ hybridization that MT1-MMP is produced by stromal cells in close contact to preinvasive and invasive tumor cells of breast carcinomas. Of particular interest was the observation that some fibroblasts express this enzyme in focal areas in preinvasive lesions, suggesting that particular tumor cells may stimulate fibroblasts to produce MT1-MMP. We have therefore compared the ability of two different breast cancer cell lines, one non-invasive (MCF7) and one invasive (MDA-MB-231) to stimulate MT1-MMP production in human fibroblasts with consequent proMMP-2-activation. The MDA-MB-231 conditioned medium induced MT1-MMP mRNAs in human fibroblasts and a parallel activation of proMMP-2 whereas MCF7 conditioned medium did not have any effect. These results suggest the existence of soluble factor(s) secreted by invasive or some preinvasive breast tumor cells which stimulate fibroblasts to produce and activate MMPs, and emphasize the cooperation between cancer and stromal cells in tumor invasion.