One critical event of tumour invasion that signals the initiation of the metastatic cascade is thought to be interaction of the tumour cell with the basement membrane. Basement membranes may also pose as barriers to tumour cell invasion at multiple points later in the metastatic cascade, including during the processes of vascular infiltration and extravasation. Thus, an important proteolytic event in the metastatic cascade, and also angiogenesis, appears to be degradation of basement membrane components. A specific class of extracellular matrix degrading metalloenzymes, the matrix metalloproteases, and their endogenous inhibitors, the tissue inhibitors of metalloproteases, are thought to have a role in the creation of the proteolytic defect in basement membrane type IV collagen. We will review the evidence which indicates that matrix metalloproteases and tissue inhibitors of metalloproteases are essential for tumour cell invasion and angiogenesis. The regulation of matrix metalloproteases will be discussed, including gene activation and transcription, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) stability, binding of proenzymes to cell membranes and/or matrix components, proenzyme activation, and inactivation by endogenous inhibitors. We will also discuss the mechanism for tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases-mediated inhibition of tumour invasion and angiogenesis. This appears, at least in part, to be through inhibition of protease activity required for cellular invasion, although recent observations suggest that tissue inhibitors of metalloproteases affect other distinct groups of biological activities through mechanisms other than matrix metalloprotease inhibition.