During 5 days of culture, explants of normal rabbit synovium produced no active collagenase, negligible latent collagenase, but significant levels of free collagenase inhibitor. Synovium from joints exhibiting a proliferative arthritis produced greatly elevated levels of collagenase; the appearance of active enzyme in the medium during the second day of culture was associated with the disappearance of free inhibitor. Enzyme levels in the media correlated well with the arthritic status of joints, when explants were prepared up to 10 weeks after the induction of the model arthritis. Synovium from the contralateral joints of rabbits with unilaterally induced arthritis produced no active collagenase, but approximately one-third as much latent collagenase as found with arthritic joints. Enzymatic activities against gelatin and cartilage proteoglycan substrates were demonstrated in synovial culture media in addition to collagenolytic activity. Gel filtration showed that these activities were not due to a single enzyme, and further characterisation confirmed that the enzymes were metalloproteinases. The results are considered in the light of published data, and the involvement of metalloproteinases and their specific inhibitor in the development of arthritic lesions is discussed.