Type IV collagenase (gelatinase) is a 70,000 dalton neutral metalloproteinase that specifically cleaves type IV collagen in addition to degrading denatured collagen (gelatin). It is secreted in a latent proenzyme form that is converted proteolytically in the extracellular space to a 62,000 dalton active enzyme. The primary structure, enzymatic properties as well as gene structure, demonstrate that type IV collagenase is closely related with the other well characterized metalloproteinases, interstitial collagenase and stromelysin. However, the structure of type IV collagenase differs from the others in that it is larger and contains three internal repeats that resemble the type II domains of fibronectin. Also, initial characterization of the promoter region of the gene indicates that its regulation differs from the other proteinase genes. Type IV collagenase is presumably required for the normal turnover of basement membranes. Augmented activity is linked with the invasive potential of tumor cells and the enzyme is believed to play a major role in the penetration of basement membranes by metastatic cells. Measurements of enzyme activity and mRNA levels as well as immunostaining of a variety of tumor cells and tissues suggest that assays for the enzyme may have value in the follow-up of malignant growth.