Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and MMP-9 are believed to play a pathophysiologic role in acute myocardial infarction (MI). The time course of their plasma concentrations in correlation with the extent of myocardial damage is unclear. In a prospective study, 20 patients with proven acute MI underwent successful reperfusion within 6 h after the onset of symptoms. The patients were divided into two groups according to the size of their MI, i.e. large or moderate MI. Plasma concentrations of MMP-2, MMP-9 and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP)-1 were determined on admission, and after 24 h, 48 h, 1 week, 4 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. MMP-2 levels remained unchanged over time in both groups. The plasma concentration of MMP-9 was elevated on admission in patients with large MI versus moderate MI (195 ± 190 versus 78 ± 63 ng/ml, p < 0.01) as determined by left ventriculography, and returned to baseline (18 ± 16 ng/ml) by 1 week after MI. TIMP-1 levels rose slowly in patients with large MI and returned to baseline at 6 months. The ratio of MMP-9 to TIMP-1 was significantly increased on admission in both groups and returned to baseline at 48 h. These data suggest that MMP-9 might play a pathophysiologic role during the early phase of acute MI.