The aim of the study was to investigate expression of the active and inactive gelatinases (MMP-2 and -9) in colorectal neoplasia and gastric cancer compared with normal mucosa. A total of 53 colorectal cancers and corresponding normal mucosa were studied using gelatin zymography as well as 15 colorectal adenomas and 13 gastric cancers with corresponding normal mucosa. Overexpression of all the gelatinases occurs in both colorectal and gastric cancer, with activation of MMP-2 appearing to be a feature of the malignant phenotype. Overexpression of MMP-9 occurs in colorectal adenomas. The gelatinases are overexpressed in gastrointestinal neoplasia, suggesting that these enzymes may have an important role in tumour invasion and metastasis.