During intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, normal matrix synthesis decreases and degradation of disc matrix increases. A number of proteases that are increased during disc degeneration are thought to be involved in its pathogenesis. Matrix metalloproteinase 7 (MMP 7) (Matrilysin, PUMP-1) is known to cleave the major matrix molecules found within the IVD, i.e., the proteoglycan aggrecan and collagen type II. To date, however, it is not known how its expression changes with degeneration or its exact location. We investigated the localization of MMP 7 in human, histologically graded, nondegenerate, degenerated and prolapsed discs to ascertain whether MMP 7 is up-regulated during disc degeneration. Samples of human IVD tissue were fixed in neutral buffered formalin, embedded in paraffin, and sections stained with hematoxylin and eosin to score the degree of morphological degeneration. Immunohistochemistry was performed to localize MMP 7 in 41 human IVDs with varying degrees of degeneration. We found that the chondrocyte-like cells of the nucleus pulposus and inner annulus fibrosus were MMP 7 immunopositive; little immunopositivity was observed in the outer annulus. Nondegenerate discs showed few immunopositive cells. A significant increase in the proportion of MMP 7 immunopositive cells was seen in the nucleus pulposus of discs classified as showing intermediate levels of degeneration and a further increase was seen in discs with severe degeneration. Prolapsed discs showed more MMP 7 immunopositive cells compared to nondegenerated discs, but fewer than those seen in cases of severe degeneration.