Chemotaxis of human T lymphoblastoma cells of the Tsup-1 line, which migrate similarly to blood T cells, through a layer of basement membrane-like Matrigel on a polycarbonate micropore filter was evoked by vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP; concentration for a maximal response, 10(-7)M), IL-2 (10(-9)M), and the chemokines RANTES (10(-10)M) and macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (10(-10)M). Chemotactic concentrations of each factor increased Tsup-1 cell secretion of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), with significant responses by 4 h for VIP, IL-2, and IL-4, but only after 24 h for macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha and RANTES, as quantified by Western blots and zymography. 3H-Labeled type IV human collagen incorporated in the Matrigel layer was degraded by migrating Tsup-1 cells, as assessed by release of radioactive fragments of the collagen. The in situ degradation of type IV collagen in Matrigel by migrating Tsup-1 cells was enhanced most significantly by VIP, IL-2, and IL-4 after 4 h at concentrations that increased the secretion of MMP-9 optimally, but only after 24 h by macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha and RANTES. The specific MMP inhibitor GM6001 suppressed Tsup-1 cell MMP activity evoked by all stimuli, as determined by zymography and in situ degradation of 3H-Labeled type IV human collagen. The chemotactic migration of Tsup-1 cells through Matrigel, but not through a filter alone, in response to optimal concentrations of VIP, IL-2, and IL-4, but not the chemokines, was inhibited by GM6001, with a concentration dependence similar to that for suppression of MMP activity. Thus elicitation of T cell chemotactic migration through a model basement membrane by stimuli that increase MMP activity early in the response depends on degradation of matrix proteins by MMP, whereas stimuli that recruit MMP late may rely on early activation of other proteases.