Metalloproteinase activity at the cell surface influences cellular sensitivity to extrinsic death vs. survival signals in a variety of cell types, through proteolytic shedding of cell surface signalling molecules. Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP-3) is a unique natural metalloproteinase inhibitor that plays a pro-apoptotic role through its ability to inhibit metalloproteinases that proteolytically cleave death receptors and their ligands from the cell surface. To study the convergence of metalloproteinase activity and death receptor signalling in neurons, we established an in vitro model of neuronal apoptosis utilizing the chemotherapeutic drug, doxorubicin (Dox). Primary cultures established from embryonic rat cerebral cortices displayed robust and selective neuronal apoptosis in response to Dox, an effect that was dependent on the activation of the death receptor, Fas. We demonstrate that both TIMP-3 and matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3) are constitutively expressed by primary cortical neurons in culture, and selectively modulated Fas-mediated neuronal apoptosis induced by Dox. Metalloproteinase inhibition by TIMP-3 was found to be necessary for Dox-induced neuronal death, whereas addition of active MMP-3 markedly attenuated apoptosis and diminished Fas–Fas ligand interaction at the cell surface. These observations implicate a physiological role for the balance of TIMP-3 and MMP-3 activity at the neuronal surface in regulating death receptor sensitivity. The convergence of metalloproteinase activity and death receptor signalling at the cell surface may influence neuronal cell death vs. survival decisions.