The aim of this study was to investigate the expression of type IV collagenase (72-kd metalloproteinase, MMP-2) in prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) in relation to normal prostate (NP) and prostatic adenocarcinoma (PAc). Twenty formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded prostatectomy specimens, in which NP, PIN and PAc were present, were immunohistochemically examined. The NP ducts and acini not contiguous with PIN and PAc showed slight MMP-2 immunostaining in the secretory cells, with some increase in intensity at the apical border, and moderate to strong immunoreactivity of some basal cells. In NP adjacent to PIN and PAc, rare ducts and acini showed strongly stained cells either isolated or in small groups of two, located within the thickness of the epithelium, close to the basement membrane. In the majority of PIN ducts and acini, the stratified secretory cells showed moderate staining. Most of these ducts and acini also showed strongly stained cells, which were mostly isolated, and either in contact with the basement membrane or scattered among the secretory cells. Low and high grade PIN showed some difference in the frequency of dark cells, which were more numerous in the latter. A small group of neoplastic acini adjacent to high grade PIN (early invasive adenocarcinoma) was observed in one of the 20 cases. Intense immunostaining was present in the acini originating from the PIN lesion. MMP-2 immunostaining of PAc was heterogeneous in intensity and location. Cribriform and solid/trabecular PAc showed weak cytoplasmic immunostaining; both moderately and intensely stained cells were seen in the cell layer adjacent to the stroma, intense immunostaining was shown by small clusters of neoplastic cells or single neoplastic cells located in the stroma. In acinar PAc, weak cytoplasmic immunostaining for MMP-2 was seen throughout most areas of the tumours, whereas moderately and intensely stained cells were observed less frequently than in cribriform and solid/trabecular adenocarcinoma. Intense immunostaining of single or small clusters of neoplastic cells located in the stroma was occasionally observed and, as with cribriform and solid/trabecular PAc, mainly located towards the periphery of the tumour nodules. Occaslonal ducts and acini with PIN and foci of PAc were either completely negative or very weakly stained. In conclusion, MMP-2 immunostaining increases progressively from NP, through PIN, up to invasive PAc. These results directly support the hypothesis that increased expression of metalloproteinases is a marker of malignant conversion.