Lung cancer is a heterogeneous tumor in terms of clinical and biological behavior, and its aggressiveness depends on its invasive and metastatic properties. Matrix metalloproteinases and serine proteinases are believed to play a crucial role in invasion and metastasis of malignant tumor cells. In the present study, the authors evaluated immunohistochemically the expression of gelatinase A; tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-2 (TIMP-2), an inhibitor of gelatinase A; matrilysin; and trypsin(ogen) in 67 lung tumors from a variety of histological types including 17 squamous cell carcinomas, 16 adenocarcinomas, 15 small cell carcinomas, and 12 carcinoids. Interestingly, normal bronchial, bronchiolar, and alveolar epithelial cells expressed gelatinase A, TIMP-2, matrilysin, and trypsin(ogen) at varying frequencies and intensities. Bronchial smooth muscle cells and cartilage cells expressed gelatinase A alone, whereas endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and macrophages expressed gelatinase A and TIMP-2. Gelatinase A was expressed at high levels in most lung tumors examined (47% to 80%). TIMP-2 was also expressed at high levels except in the small cell carcinomas, which showed TIMP-2 expression at a lower frequency (60%) compared with other types of lung tumors (80% to 100%). Although matrilysin was expressed by tumor cells of all the histological types at various frequencies (13% to 63%), its expression was most common in adenocarcinomas. Expression of trypsin(ogen) was observed almost exclusively in adenocarcinomas (56%); other types of lung tumors expressed trypsin(ogen) far less frequently (0% to 12%). The present results, taken together with those of previous studies, suggest that gelatinase A is associated with malignant behavior of all the types of lung tumors, whereas its activity may be controlled by the endogenous inhibitor TIMP-2. The aggressive clinical behavior of small cell carcinoma may be attributable, at least in part, to a loss of the inhibitory effect of TIMP-2, as a significant proportion of these tumors showed negative or low levels of TIMP-2 expression. Matrilysin and trypsin(ogen) expressions are unlikely to be correlated with the aggressiveness of lung tumors. The expression of trypsin (ogen) may rather reflect the differentiation of adenocarcinoma cells toward normal airway epithelial cells.