The remodeling of extracellular matrix during chronic liver disease may partially be attributed to altered activity of matrix metalloproteinases and their tissue inhibitors (TIMPs). Expression of TIMP-1 and -2 was studied by in situ hybridization combined with immunohistochemistry in rat (acute and chronic carbon tetrachloride intoxication and secondary biliary fibrosis) and human livers and on isolated rat hepatic stellate cells. TIMP-1 and -2 transcripts appeared in rat livers within 1 to 3 hours after intoxication, pointing to a role in the protection against accidental activation of matrix metalloproteinases, and were present at high levels in all fibrotic rat and human livers predominantly in stellate cells. TIMP-2 RNA distribution largely matched with previously reported patterns of matrix metalloproteinase-2 (72-kd gelatinase) expression, suggesting generation of a TIMP-2/matrix metalloproteinase-2 complex (large inhibitor of metalloproteinases). Isolated stellate cells expressed TIMP-1 and -2 RNA. Addition of transforming growth factor-beta 1 enhanced TIMP-1 and matrix metalloproteinase-2 RNA levels in vitro, whereas TIMP-2-specific signals were reduced, likely to result in a stoichiometric excess of matrix-metalloproteinase-2 over TIMP-2. In the context of previous demonstrations of transforming growth factor-beta 1 and matrix metalloproteinase-2 in vivo, these patterns suggest an intrahepatic environment permitting only limited matrix degradation, ultimately resulting in redistribution of extracellular matrix with relative accumulation of collagen type 1.