To determine matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3) serum levels in patients with rheumatic diseases and to study the relation between MMP-3 and C reactive protein (CRP) levels. MMP-3 serum levels were determined by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in (a) patients with active inflammatory rheumatic diseases: rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, acute crystal arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis; (b) patients with active inflammatory systemic diseases: cutaneo-articular or renal systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), systemic sclerosis, and vasculitides; (c) patients with non-inflammatory rheumatic diseases: osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia; (d) critically ill patients without rheumatic diseases, representing an acute inflammatory control group; (e) healthy controls. MMP-3 serum levels were significantly increased in patients with active RA, psoriatic arthritis, and polymyalgia rheumatica, whether treated or not by corticosteroids, and in female patients with acute crystal arthritis. MMP-3 serum levels were normal in steroid-free patients with active cutaneo-articular or renal SLE, systemic sclerosis, and vasculitides but were significantly increased in steroid treated patients. MMP-3 levels were normal in fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and acute inflammatory controls. MMP-3 was significantly correlated with CRP in RA (r=0.5, p=0.0004) but not in any of the other disease groups. MMP-3 serum levels are increased in inflammatory rheumatic diseases characterised by joint synovitis, such as RA, polymyalgia rheumatica, psoriatic arthritis, and acute crystal arthritis-that is, whether the diseases are acute or chronic, erosive or not. They are normal in SLE, systemic sclerosis, and vasculitides as well as in non-rheumatic inflammatory controls, but are significantly increased by steroids. These data strongly suggest that serum MMP-3 reflects synovial inflammation.