Background Perineuronal nets (PNNs) are specialized extracellular matrix structures mainly found around fast-spiking parvalbumin (FS-PV) interneurons. In the adult, their degradation alters FS-PV-driven functions, such as brain plasticity and memory, and altered PNN structures have been found in neurodevelopmental and central nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, leading to interest in identifying targets able to modify or participate in PNN metabolism. The serine protease tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) plays multifaceted roles in brain pathophysiology. However, its cellular expression profile in the brain remains unclear and a possible role in matrix plasticity through PNN remodeling has never been investigated. Result By combining a GFP reporter approach, immunohistology, electrophysiology, and single-cell RT-PCR, we discovered that cortical FS-PV interneurons are a source of tPA in vivo. We found that mice specifically lacking tPA in FS-PV interneurons display denser PNNs in the somatosensory cortex, suggesting a role for tPA from FS-PV interneurons in PNN remodeling. In vitro analyses in primary cultures of mouse interneurons also showed that tPA converts plasminogen into active plasmin, which in turn, directly degrades aggrecan, a major structural chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) in PNNs. Conclusions We demonstrate that tPA released from FS-PV interneurons in the central nervous system reduces PNN density through CSPG degradation. The discovery of this tPA-dependent PNN remodeling opens interesting insights into the control of brain plasticity. Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12915-022-01419-8.