Collagenase-3 (matrix metalloproteinase 13; MMP-13), a protease originally identified in breast carcinoma, is characterized by a potent degrading activity against a wide spectrum of extracellular matrix proteins. The aims of this study were to localize and identify the MMP-13-expressing cells in invasive human breast carcinoma and to evaluate the role of MMP-13 in transition to invasive lesions by studying ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). We found expression of MMP-13 in stromal fibroblast-like cells in all 21 invasive ductal carcinomas studied and in 4 of 9 invasive lobular carcinomas. In most carcinomas, expression of MMP-13 was limited to small stromal foci in the tumor area. Combined in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry showed coexpression of alpha-smooth muscle actin immunoreactivity and MMP-13 mRNA in myofibroblasts. In contrast, cytokeratin-positive cancer cells, alpha-smooth muscle actin-positive vascular smooth muscle cells, CD68-positive macrophages, and CD31-positive endothelial cells were all MMP-13 mRNA negative. In situ hybridization for MMP-13 in 17 DCIS lesions revealed expression in 10 cases. Immunohistochemical analysis of all DCIS cases identified microinvasion in 8 of the 17 lesions. Seven of the eight lesions with microinvasion were MMP-13 positive. Further analysis showed that MMP-13 expression was often associated with the microinvasive events. This particular expression pattern was unique for MMP-13 among other MMPs analyzed, including MMP-2, -11, and -14. We conclude that MMP-13 is primarily expressed by myofibroblasts in human breast carcinoma and that expression in DCIS lesions often is associated with microinvasive events. On the basis of these data, we propose that MMP-13 may play an essential role during transition of DCIS lesions to invasive ductal carcinomas.