Extracellular matrix metalloproteinase inducer (EMMPRIN) was originally identified on the tumor cell surface as an inducer of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) production in neighboring fibroblasts. Here we demonstrate a role for EMMPRIN in MMP induction during corneal wound healing. MMP and EMMPRIN expression was analyzed in normal and ulcerated human corneas, as well as in corneal epithelial and stromal cells in culture using confocal microscopy, zymography, immunoblots, and real-time polymerase chain reaction. In normal cornea EMMPRIN was predominantly expressed in the epithelium but was markedly induced in the anterior stroma of ulcerated corneas. This coincided with MMP-2 induction that co-localized with EMMPRIN at the epithelio-stromal boundary. The role of epithelial-stromal interaction in MMP induction was investigated in an in vitro co-culture system and demonstrated an induction and co-localization of EMMPRIN and MMP-2 in the fibroblasts at the interface with epithelial cells. Direct contact of fibroblasts with EMMPRIN-containing purified epithelial cell membranes also induced MMP-1, MMP-2, and EMMPRIN and this was inhibited by a blocking anti-EMMPRIN antibody, suggesting that EMMPRIN was primarily responsible for this induction. These findings, and the up-regulation of EMMPRIN by epidermal growth factor and transforming growth factor-β, demonstrate a role for EMMPRIN in wound healing and suggest that sustained local up-regulation of EMMPRIN and MMPs in chronic situations in which healing is delayed may lead to excessive matrix degradation and corneal melts.