The matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) have been implicated in tumor invasion and metastasis both by immunohistochemical studies and from the observation that specific metalloproteinase inhibitors block tumor invasion and metastasis. Oligonucleotide primers for thirteen MMPs (MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, MMP-7, MMP-8, MMP-9, MMP-10, MMP-11, MMP-12, MMP-13, MMP-14, MMP-15, MMP-16) were optimized for use in RT-PCR. A semi-quantitative RT-PCR assay was used to determine the pattern of MMP mRNA expression in 84 normal and transformed or carcinogen transformed human cell lines and strains derived from different tissues. The results demonstrate one or more cell lines which express thirteen members of the MMP family. In addition, various oncogene transfected human fibroblast cell strains were analyzed for MMP expression. We confirm that over-expression of the H-ras oncoprotein correlates with up-regulation of MMP-9 and demonstrate that over-expression of v-sis also up-regulates MMP-9. A cell line immortalized following myc expression was found to up-regulate MMP-7, MMP-11 and MMP-13. Inappropriate expression of several MMP mRNAs was detected in breast, prostate, bone, colon and oral tumor derived cell lines. Identification of at least one cell line expressing each of thirteen MMPs and the observation of oncogene induced expression of several MMPs should facilitate analysis of the transcriptional mechanisms controlling each MMP.