The potential role of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) system in the pathophysiology of the adipose tissue was investigated in a mouse model of nutritionally induced obesity. mRNA levels of 16 MMPs and 4 tissue inhibitors of MMPs (TIMPs) were measured by semiquantitative RT-PCR in adipose tissue isolated from mice maintained for 15 weeks on a standard or high-fat diet. In mice on standard diet, with the exception of MMP-8, all MMP and TIMP transcripts were detected in both gonadal and subcutaneous depots. In obese mice, the expression of MMP-3, -11, -12, -13, and -14 and TIMP-1 mRNAs was upregulated, whereas that of MMP-7, -9, -16, and -24 and TIMP-4 was downregulated. Most MMP and TIMP mRNAs were expressed at higher levels in stromal-vascular cells than in mature adipocytes. Analysis of adipose tissue by in situ fluorescent zymography revealed MMP-dependent proteolytic activities, demonstrating the presence of active MMPs in the intact tissue. In vitro conversion of adipogenic 3T3-F442A cells into mature adipocytes was associated with substantial modulations of MMP and TIMP expression. Moreover, this in vitro adipogenesis was reduced in the presence of a synthetic MMP inhibitor. Thus, the adipose tissue expresses a large array of MMPs and TIMPs, which modulate adipocyte differentiation.