Fibrosis occurs in most chronic liver injuries and results from changes in the balance between synthesis and degradation of extracellular matrix components. In fibrotic livers, there is a markedly increased activity of matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP2), a major enzyme involved in extracellular matrix remodeling. We have previously shown that hepatic stellate cells secrete latent MMP2 and that MMP2 activation occurs in coculture of hepatic stellate cells and hepatocytes concomitantly with matrix deposition. In the present work we investigated the effects of various extracellular matrix components and concanavalin A, an inducer of immune-mediated liver injuries, on MMP2 activation in cultured human hepatic stellate cells. Collagen I induced a dose-dependent MMP2 activation, which was not blocked by both actinomycin and cycloheximide. Collagen VI, laminin, and a reconstituted basement membrane (matrigel) were ineffective in inducing activation. Specific antibodies against the subunits of α2β1 integrins, the major collagen I receptor, induced partial inhibition of MMP2 activation. Treatment of cells with concanavalin A resulted in a marked activation of MMP2 that correlated with the proteolytic processing of MT1-MMP, the MMP2 activator, from a Mr=60 kd toward a Mr=43 kd polypeptide. Actinomycin and cycloheximide inhibited the MMP2 activation induced by concanavalin A. Recombinant tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 and the MMP inhibitor BB-3103, but not PMSF, blocked MMP2 activation induced by collagen I or concanavalin A, and MT1-MMP processing to its Mr-43 kd form. These results suggest that the accumulation of collagen I may specifically contribute to the remodeling of extracellular matrix in fibrotic livers by inducing MMP2 activation.