During implantation, matrix metalloproteinases are believed to play roles in the tissue remodelling that accompanies decidualization in the endometrium and in embryo invasion. The objective of this study was to characterize further the expression of matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9 in the mouse uterus during early pregnancy and oil-induced decidualization. mRNA encoding matrix metalloproteinase 2 was detected in pregnant uteri and uteri undergoing oil-induced decidualization by northern blot analyses. The steady-state concentrations of mRNA encoding matrix metalloproteinase 2 did not change significantly in implantation compared with inter-implantation areas on days 5-8 of pregnancy but were significantly lower in stimulated compared with non-stimulated uterine horns during artificially induced decidualization. mRNA encoding matrix metalloproteinase 9 was also detected in uteri undergoing oil-induced decidualization but not in pregnant uteri. Its concentration was significantly greater in uterine horns undergoing oil-induced decidualization compared with control horns. Immunoreactive matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9 were detected in the uterus during early pregnancy and oil-induced decidualization by immunohistochemistry, localized to the endometrial stroma, but the staining progressively became weaker and was absent in areas that had undergone decidualization. By day 8 of pregnancy and 72 h after the induction of decidualization, matrix metalloproteinase 2 and 9 proteins remained mainly in the region of non-decidualized stromal cells adjacent to the myometrium. In implantation segments, they were also localized to the region of the trophoblast giant cells. The second objective of the present study was to determine whether endometrial stromal cells isolated from uteri sensitized for decidualization express matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9. Northern blot analyses and gelatin zymography showed that these cultured cells expressed matrix metalloproteinase 2 and 9, and that transforming growth factor beta1 significantly increased matrix metalloproteinase 9 expression. The results of the present study further characterize matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9 expression in the uterus during implantation and artificially induced decidualization.