Gelatinase activity and inhibitory activity against collagenase were measured in serum-free medium conditioned by murine colonic carcinoma cells with different spontaneous metastatic potentials to the lung. The medium conditioned with poorly metastatic NM11 cells gave higher inhibitory activity than that conditioned with highly metastatic LuM1 cells, while the level of secreted gelatinases in the same medium was lower in NM11 medium than in LuM1 case. Northern analysis showed the higher gene expression of both tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-1 and TIMP-2 in NM11 cells than in LuM1 cells, suggesting that both TIMPs are responsible for the increase of inhibitory activity in NM11 conditioned medium. Examination of the balance of gelatinases and inhibitor revealed that the amount of inhibitor exceeded that of gelatinases in the medium conditioned with NM11 cells. In contrast, the medium conditioned with LuM1 cells contained excess amounts of gelatinases. The results indicated a close correlation between the balance of gelatinases and inhibitors and the metastatic behavior of murine tumor cells.