Recent work has shown that chemically modified tetracyclines (CMTs) are potent inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity, both in vitro and in vivo, which is distinct from their antimicrobial activities (Golub et al. Crit Rev Oral Biol Med, 2, 297-321, 1991; Ryan et al. Curr Opin Rheumatol, 8, 23847, 1996). The process of tumor cell invasion requires MMP-mediated degradation of extracellular matrix barriers as a key step in the metastasic cascade. In this study, we examined the effect(s) of doxycycline and CMTs on extracellular levels of gelatinase A and B activity from a highly invasive and metastatic human melanoma cell line C8161, and correlated these observations with changes in the cells' biological behavior in an in vitro invasion assay and in an in vivo SCID mouse model. The results indicate that coincident with the ability of these compounds to differentially suppress extracellular levels of gelatinase activity, C8161 cells treated with doxycycline, CMT-1, CMT-3, or CMT-6 were less invasive in vitro in a dose-dependent manner (3-50 microg/ml). Furthermore, data derived from the in vivo model indicate that SCID mice dosed orally with CMT-1 or CMT-3 contained a reduced number of lung metastases following i.v. injection of C8161 cells via tail vein inoculation. These observations suggest that careful screening of different CMTs could lead to the identification of compounds which suppress the formation and magnitude of metastases associated with certain cancers, and if used as an adjunct to other treatment regimes, lead to greater efficacy in the treatment of metastatic cancers.