Our aim was to investigate the collagenolytic potential and localization of matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) in relation to its regulatory proteins membrane type MT1-MMP and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-2 (TIMP-2) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). For this purpose, we have used purification of MMP-2, MMP-8, MMP-9 and interstitial type I, II and III collagens; SDS-PAGE/densitometric collagenase activity assay; zymography; Western blotting; reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction; in situ hybridization; and immunofluorescence, ABC, ABC-APAAP double immunostainings. MMP-2 degraded human type II collagen almost as effectively as MMP-8, whereas MMP-9 did not cleave type II collagen. In synovial tissue, MT1-MMP, TIMP-2 and MMP-2 were found in synovial lining in fibroblast- and macrophage-like cells, in stromal cells and in vascular endothelium. MT1-MMP, TIMP-2 and MMP-2 were strongly expressed in the pannocytes of the invasive pannus at the interface, but staining was weak and/or there were few positive cells both "above" and "below" the soft-to-hard tissue (cartilage and/or bone) interface. Rheumatoid synovial tissue extract contained proteolytically active 62/59 kDa MMP-2 and 43 kDa MT1-MMP, but no free TIMP-2. These results indicate that components of the ternary MT1-MMP/TIMP-2/MMP-2 complex are coexpressed in the normal synovial lining and in its pathological extension on the hyaline articular cartilage. MMP-2 may participate in the remodeling of the normal lining and also seems to be localized/focalized to pannocytes at a site critical for tissue destruction in arthritis.