Precursor forms of the glycoprotein tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP) synthesized by human fibroblasts in culture have been identified by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of specific immunoprecipitates. Translation of mRNA extracted from fibroblasts in the cell-free rabbit reticulocyte lysate system yielded a single immunoprecipitable precursor of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases, Mr 22000. Intact fibroblasts cultured in the presence of tunicamycin synthesized an Mr 20 000 form of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases, detectable intracellularly and extracellularly. This is in contrast to the predominantly intracellular Mr 24 000 form synthesized during monensin treatment of cells and the normal secreted form of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases, Mr 29 000. Isoelectric focusing of the various immunoprecipitable precursor forms showed a progressive increase in positive charge and microheterogeneity of the protein during cellular processing. The data suggest that the inhibitor protein core, of basic pI, is glycosylated initially by the addition of mostly neutral sugars and subsequently by acidic sugars, prior to secretion.