A significant increase in gelatinolytic activity was observed in cultures of glomeruli from Heymann nephritic rats. Zymography of the culture medium indicated that the main gelatinase species has a molecular weight of 98 kilodaltons (kDa) and the characteristics of metalloproteinase. The 98-kDa gelatinase was detected in the culture medium of glomerular epithelial cells but not in those of endothelial and mesangial cells. Interleukin-1 beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and lipopolysaccharide dose-dependently increased gelatinase production by epithelial cells. These results suggest that the gelatinase secreted by cytokine-stimulated glomerular epithelial cells participates in the pathological process of Heymann nephritis.