Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) have been implicated in the pathophysiology of ischemic stroke. In this study, we investigated the time course of gelatinolytic activation in a rat model of permanent ischemia. We observed an activation of MMPs as early as 30 mins after the ischemic insult, mainly in the nuclei of brain cells. Besides, we explored MMP-13 expression in brain samples of the animal model and stroke deceased patients. We observed an upregulation of active MMP-13 in rat brains (P<0.05) after 90 mins of cerebral ischemia. Human infarct/periinfarct samples also showed higher levels of active MMP-13 (P<0.05) compared with contralateral ones. Interestingly, we found that MMP-13 colocalized with 46-diamidino-2-phenyl indole signal by immunohistochemistry in both humans and rats, suggesting an intranuclear localization for MMP-13. Immunohistochemistry also revealed that MMP-13 was mainly produced by neurons, in both species, but also by oligodendrocytes in rats, and by astrocytes in humans. Finally we subjected a rat primary neuronal culture to oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD) and we reproduced the nuclear translocation of MMP-13 in vitro. Nuclear extracts from cells confirmed upregulation of active MMP-13 after OGD (P<0.05). These results suggest that MMP-13 activation and its nuclear translocation is an early consequence of an ischemic stimulus. © 2009 ISCBFM All rights reserved.