Nickel is an important economic commodity, but it can cause skin sensitization and may cause lung diseases such as lung fibrosis, pneumonitis, bronchial asthma and lung cancer. With development of nanotechnology, nano-sized nickel (Nano-Ni) and nano-sized titanium dioxide (Nano-TiO₂) particles have been developed and produced for many years with new formulations and surface properties to meet novel demands. Our previous studies have shown that Nano-Ni instilled into rat lungs caused a greater inflammatory response as compared with standard-sized nickel (5 μm) at equivalent mass concentrations. Nano-Ni caused a persistent high level of inflammation in lungs even at low doses. Recently, several studies have shown that nanoparticles can translocate from the lungs to the circulatory system. To evaluate the potential systemic effects of metal nanoparticles, we compared the effects of Nano-Ni and Nano-TiO₂ on matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9 (MMP-2 and MMP-9) gene expression and activity. Our results showed that exposure of human monocyte U937 to Nano-Ni caused dose- and time- dependent increase in MMP-2 and MMP-9 mRNA expression and pro-MMP-2 and pro-MMP-9 activity, but Nano-TiO₂ did not. Nano-Ni also caused dose- and time- related increase in tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases 1 (TIMP-1), but Nano-TiO₂ did not. To determine the potential mechanisms involved, we measured the expression of hypoxia inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) in U937 cells exposed to Nano-Ni and Nano-TiO₂. Our results showed that exposure to Nano-Ni caused HIF-1α accumulation in the nucleus. Furthermore, pre-treatment of U937 cells with heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) inhibitor, 17-(Allylamino)-17-demethoxygeldanamycin (17-AAG), prior to exposure to Nano-Ni significantly abolished Nano-Ni-induced MMP-2 and MMP-9 mRNA upregulation and increased pro-MMP-2 and pro-MMP-9 activity. Our results suggest that HIF-1α accumulation may be involved in the increased MMP-2 and MMP-9 production in U937 cells exposed to Nano-Ni.