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Stromelysin-3 (ST-3) mRNA expression was studied in 28 colorectal carcinomas and compared with that of adjacent nontumorous tissue. By Northern blot analysis, levels of ST-3 mRNA were significantly increased in the carcinomas compared with nontumorous tissue. No significant correlation with ST-3 expression was seen with degree of invasion, nodal or distant metastases, or histologic grade. In situ hybridization of nontumorous tissue showed no significant ST-3 expression. In tumor tissue, ST-3 mRNA was localized adjacent to colon carcinoma cells in irregular foci within the stroma. No significant difference in ST-3 expression was found between the center and periphery of the colon tumors. Most of the colon carcinomas (26 of 28) induced an expression of ST-3 in the directly adjacent stroma. No significant correlation between ST-3 mRNA expression and tumor stage and grade was seen. By Northern blot, we also saw expression of ST-3 in non-carcinomatous tissue, further supporting the concept that ST-3 expression is a tumor-induced but not a tumor-specific phenomenon.