Activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) are a potential source of gelatinase A, which accumulates in fibrotic livers. Progelatinase A activation requires its binding to a complex of membrane-type matrix metalloproteinase (MT-MMP) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-2. These studies examine gelatinase A, MT1-MMP, and TIMP-2 synthesis by HSCs during activationin vitroand the potential role of gelatinase A in promoting HSC proliferation. Gelatinase A, MT1-MMP, and TIMP-2 messenger RNA (mRNA) were all upregulated in HSCs activated on plastic over 5 to 14 days. Gelatinase A expression was maximal at 7 days of culture, coinciding with the peak of HSC proliferation and the onset of procollagen I and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) mRNA expression. Active forms of gelatinase A of 62 kd and 66 kd were secreted by activated HSCs and reached a maximum of 12.1% of total enzyme in 14-day culture supernatants. Treatment of HSCs with concanavalin A (con A) induced activation of MT1-MMP and enhanced secretion of activated gelatinase A, which reached a maximum of 44.4% of the total enzyme secreted into culture supernatants using 30 μg/mL con A. [14C]-gelatin degradation assays confirmed the presence of gelatinolytic activity in activated HSC supernatants, which reached a maximum level at 7 days of culture. Antisense oligonucleotide inhibition of endogenous progelatinase A production, or the MMP inhibitor 1,10-phenanthroline inhibited 3H-thymidine incorporation into HSC DNA by greater than 50%. We conclude that HSCs produce progelatinase A during activation in vitroand activate this enzyme coincident with MT1-MMP and TIMP-2 synthesis. Gelatinase A activity is required for maximal proliferation of HSCsin vitrosuggesting this metalloproteinase is an autocrine proliferation factor for HSCs.