The expression of members of the family of matrix-degrading metalloproteinases (MMPs) is believed to contribute to the complex process of invasion and metastasis. In this study, specific cDNA probes for three members of the stromelysin subfamily of MMPs--stromelysin (MMP-3), stromelysin-2 (MMP-10), and pump-1 (MMP-7)--were used to examine the expression of these three different MMPs in human gastric and colonic carcinomas and in adjacent normal mucosa. The expression of pump-1 mRNA in malignant colon and stomach samples was striking. In a total of 10 gastric carcinoma samples examined, eight (80%) expressed pump-1 transcripts; similarly, 6 of 8 (75%) colon carcinoma samples were also positive. Stromelysin and stromelysin-2 mRNAs were not detected in any of these samples. Expression of the MMPs examined was not detected in any of the adjacent, grossly normal tissue samples. Using in situ hybridization and affinity purified anti-pump-1 antibodies, the expression of pump-1 mRNA and protein was localized to tumor cells and was not detected in stromal or lymphocytic cells. This data suggests that the inappropriate expression of pump-1 by malignant cells may contribute to the neoplastic phenotype.