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Interstitial collagen types I, II and III are highly resistant to proteolytic attack, due to their triple helical structure, but can be cleaved by matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) collagenases at a specific site, approximately three-quarters of the length from the N-terminus of each chain. MMP-2 and -9 are closely related at the structural level, but MMP-2, and not MMP-9, has been previously described as a collagenase. This report investigates the ability of purified recombinant human MMP-9 produced in insect cells to degrade native collagen types I and III. Purified MMP-9 was able to cleave the soluble, monomeric forms of native collagen types I and III at 37 °C and 25 °C, respectively. Activity against collagens I and III was abolished by metalloproteinase inhibitors and was not present in the concentrated crude medium of mock-transfected cells, demonstrating that it was MMP-9-derived. Mutated, collagenase-resistant type I collagen was not digested by MMP-9, indicating that the three-quarters/one-quarter locus was the site of initial attack. Digestion of type III collagen generated a three-quarter fragment, as shown by comparison with MMP-1-mediated cleavage. These data demonstrate that MMP-9, like MMP-2, is able to cleave collagens I and III in their native form and in a manner that is characteristic of the unique collagenolytic activity of MMP collagenases.