Three constitutive gelatinases in human plasma were identified and characterized relative to known matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) gelatinases: MMP-2 (fibroblast 72-kDa) and MMP-9 (neutrophil 92-, 130-, and 225-kDa). Substrate gel electrophoresis (gelatin zymography) revealed an apparent Mw of 78-, 82-, and 89-kDa for these gelatinases. Densitometry revealed that MMP-9 and MMP-2 were highly calcium sensitive requiring 50-150 microM and 500 microM calcium for half-maximal activity, respectively. Of the new gelatinases, only the 89-kDa form demonstrated slight calcium activation. The three gelatinases were unaffected by known MMP inhibitors: EDTA (5 mM), 1,10-phenanthroline (2 mM), and pepstatin (18 microM). Serine and thiol protease inhibitors (leupeptin, aprotinin, PMSF, TLCK, TPCK, antichymostatin, antipain) were also ineffective. Solution-phase IEF revealed that the 78- and 82-kDa forms focused at neutral pI 6.72-7.95 whereas the 89-kDa focused at an acidic pI 4.89-5.18 (similar to neutrophil and fibroblast forms). The data indicate that these gelatinases are not MMPs or partially activated MMPs. Their role in normal and pathological conditions is not known.