Although matrilysin (MMP-7) is overexpressed in various malignancies, few studies have evaluated its role in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) invasion and metastasis. We report that the secretion of MMP-7 in EOC is stimulated significantly by vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and interlukin-8 (IL-8). We also examined the in vivo expression of MMP-7 in EOC and its effects on the in vitro invasion and progelatinase activation. We report that MMP-7 is overexpressed in ovarian cancer cell lines and EOC surgical specimens. DOV13 cells incubated with active rhMMP-7 significantly increased cellular invasion and proMMP-2 activation. RhMMP-7 also showed the ability to activate proMMP-2 and proMMP-9 in immortalized ovarian epithelial cell (IOSE-29) conditioned medium. In addition, rhMMP-7 was able to activate progelatinase in a concentration-dependent manner in vitro. TIMP-2 or the generic MMP inhibitor-GM6001 inhibited both the activation of proMMP-2 and the increased invasion of DOV13 cells promoted by rhMMP-7. By incubation of MMP2-TIMP-2 complex with equal molar rhMMP-7, MMP-2 was dissociated from the complex and activated in a time-dependent manner, suggesting that TIMP-2 helps to keep the latency of MMP-2. TIMP–2 also showed inhibitory effects on the MMP-7 induced increase of gelatinolytic activity in DOV13 and IOSE-29 conditioned media. A strong co-localization of MMP-7 and MMP-2 was observed in DOV13 cells and ovarian carcinoma permanent tissue sections. These results indicate MMP-7 is overexpressed in malignant ovarian epithelium and suggest MMP-7 may facilitate tumor cell invasion in vivo partly through the induction of progelatinase activation. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.