The relative distribution of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (u-PA), tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA), plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) and plasminogen activator inhibitor-2 (PAI-2) was studied in cultured human gingival fibroblasts, healthy gingival tissues and inflamed gingival tissues by immunohistochemistry. In cultured gingival fibroblasts t-PA, u-PA and PAI-1 were expressed in cytoplasm; u-PA and PAI-1 were more intensely stained than t-PA; PAI-2 was not detectable in gingival fibroblasts. Following interleukin 1 beta (IL-1 beta) stimulation, the intensity of intracellular staining for t-PA was increased and a number of cells staining strongly for PAI-2 were seen; no difference in the intensity of immunostaining level was noted for the expression of u-PA and PAI-1 between IL-1 beta stimulated cells and unstimulated cells. In healthy gingival tissues, u-PA and PAI-1 displayed a wide distribution throughout all the connective tissue and epithelium; t-PA localized mainly in the connective tissue while PAI-2 showed little association with the connective tissue but did faintly stain in the epithelial layer. In inflamed gingival tissues, staining for t-PA was significantly increased in the extracellular matrix of the connective tissue, whereas staining for u-PA, PAI-1 and PAI-2 was found to be slightly increased, but no significant difference was noted for staining when compared with the healthy gingival tissues. A granular distribution of t-PA, u-PA, PAI-1 and PAI-2 was noted around areas of inflammatory cell infiltration. These immunohistochemical findings indicate that the plasminogen activator system produced by fibroblasts may be influenced by the presence of the inflammatory mediator IL-1 beta. In addition, the significant increase of t-PA in inflamed connective tissue and the wide expression of these components around inflamed cells may contribute to connective tissue degradation and may relate to the migration and localization of monocytes/macrophages in inflamed tissue.