Decidualization results in the remodeling of the extracellular matrix with the loss of collagen type I and the appearance of basement membrane matrix components. We have developed an in vitro assay system to study matrix metalloproteases during mouse decidualization. Uterine stroma, or decidua isolated from day 7.5 pregnant mice, were grown on a three-dimensional collagen type I matrix (Vitrogen). Gelatin zymography of conditioned media from these cultures showed constitutive secretion of processed forms of gelatinase A at 65, 62, and 59 kDa with 62 kDa predominating. Similar patterns of gelatinase A expression were obtained from tissue lysates of decidualizing uteri from days 5.5 to 7.5 of development. Cells cultured on Vitrogen, but not on plastic or matrix-coated dishes, were able to process the proenzyme to the 59 kDa form as observed in vivo. Only stroma cells cultured on a coating of collagen type I displayed the same increase in the 59 kDa zymogen. Decidua cells grown on Vitrogen attached and then migrated into aggregates that eventually penetrated the gel and spread as differentiated decidua on the underlying plastic. These preliminary results suggested that the in vitro assay system can be used to study the role of metalloproteases in matrix remodeling during decidualization.