Human pregnancy is associated with extensive growth and remodelling of the uterus and placenta, and restructuring of these tissues during specific stages of gestation likely involves the degradative activity of various matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). In this investigation, we used in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry to identify the sites and cell source of collagenase-1 (MMP-1), stromelysin-1 (MMP-3), matrilysin (MMP-7), and 92 kDa gelatinase (MMP-9), a subgroup of MMPs with the combined ability to degrade essentially all matrix proteins. Human tissues were recovered from uncomplicated pregnancies at various gestational ages and from pregnancies complicated by chorioamnionitis, pre-eclampsia, and placenta accreta. Our results show prominent expression of all four MMPs in specific cells of human placentae involved in trophoblast invasion and placental maturation. Collagenase-1 and stromelysin-1 were detected in cells of the amnion, decidua, and chorionic villi at all stages of pregnancy. Ninety-two kilodalton gelatinase was present in granulocytes whenever present. Matrilysin was seen in cytotrophoblasts and syncytiotrophoblasts during early pregnancy but only in cytotrophoblasts by the third trimester. In addition, we found that matrilysin is over expressed and is produced by more cell types in placentae from pregnancies complicated by pre-eclampsia suggesting that the proteolytic activity of this MMP contributes to the pathology of this condition. We conclude that certain MMPs produced by resident cells of the human placenta, and in particular trophoblasts, participate in the physiological progress human gestation and parturition.