In the cycling human endometrium, the expression of interstitial collagenase (MMP-1) and of several related matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) follows the late-secretory fall in sex steroid plasma concentrations and is thought to be a critical step leading to menstruation. The rapid and extensive lysis of interstitial matrix that precedes menstrual shedding requires a strict control of these proteinases. However, the mechanism by which ovarian steroids regulate endometrial MMPs remains unclear. We report here that, in the absence of ovarian steroids, MMP-1 expression in endometrial fibroblasts is markedly stimulated by medium conditioned by endometrial epithelial cells. This stimulation can be prevented by antibodies directed against interleukin 1α (IL-1α) but not against several other cytokines. Ovarian steroids inhibit the release of IL-1α and repress MMP-1 production by IL-1α-stimulated fibroblasts. In short-term cultures of endometrial explants obtained throughout the menstrual cycle, the release of both IL-1α and MMP-1 is essentially limited to the perimenstrual phase. We conclude that epithelium-derived IL-1α is the key paracrine inducer of MMP-1 in endometrial fibroblasts. However, MMP-1 production in the human endometrium is ultimately blocked by ovarian steroids, which act both upstream and downstream of IL-1α, thereby exerting an effective control via a “double-block” mechanism.