Co-injection of fibroblasts with human epithelial breast-tumor MCF7 cells in the presence of Matrigel enhances tumor growth in nude mice. While most of the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) have been shown to be produced by stromal cells, tumor cells such as MCF7 cells are unable to produce MMPs. We therefore, hypothesized that the tumor-promoting effect of fibroblasts could be related to their production of MMPs. In order to inhibit stromal proteases, over-production of TIMP-2 was induced in MCF7 cells by in vitro retroviral-mediated gene transfer. TIMP-2-producing MCF7 cells were then co-injected with fibroblasts into nude mice. Alternatively, we evaluated the effect of Batimastat, a synthetic inhibitor of MMPs, on the tumorigenicity of MCF7 cells co-inoculated with fibroblasts into nude mice. Both physiological (TIMP-2) and synthetic (Batimastat) inhibitors of MMPs were able to abolish the tumor-promoting effect of fibroblasts. On the contrary, they failed to modulate the tumorigenicity of MCF7 cells injected alone. Interestingly, Matrigel from which low-molecular-weight proteins or growth factors had been removed failed to favor the tumorigenicity of MCF7 cells inoculated with fibroblasts. These findings emphasize the importance of fibroblasts in cancer progression, and suggest that their role could be related at least in part to production of proteases which can induce the release of factors from the extracellular matrix.