In this study we investigated the influence of keratinocytes on the phenotype of fibroblasts in an in vitro human skin equivalent. Keratinocytes were seeded at the surface of fibroblast-populated mechanically restrained type I collagen gels (lattices). Lattices without keratinocytes were handled in parallel as controls. After 2 and 4 days in culture, the keratinocyte layer was removed and the steady-state level of the mRNA for the main extracellular matrix macromolecules and interstitial collagenase produced by the fibroblasts was measured by Northern and dot blot analysis. A 50% decrease in the amount of procollagen type I and type III mRNAs was observed after 2 and 4 days of coculture while collagenase gene expression was upregulated by 300% when compared with control lattices. No significant modulation of type IV and type VI collagen, elastin or laminin B1 mRNA levels was found. Fibronectin mRNA levels in fibroblasts were significantly increased only on day 4. All the observed changes could be reproduced using a conditioned medium collected from a lattice covered with keratinocytes added to a lattice containing fibroblasts alone. These results indicate that in an in vitro reconstituted skin, keratinocytes are able to modulate the biosynthetic phenotype of fibroblasts at a pretranslational level through a paracrine signalling pathway.