The structural and catalytic requirements for neutrophil MMP-9 proenzyme (proMMP-9) to induce angiogenesis were investigated using a quantitative angiogenesis model based on grafting of collagen onplants onto the chorioallantoic membrane of chick embryos. Both physiological activation of neutrophil proMMP-9 and proteolytic activity of the generated MMP-9 enzyme were critically dependent on the tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP)-free status of the zymogen. The presence of an intact active site and hemopexin domain were required for full angiogenesis-inducing activity of the MMP-9 enzyme. Timed additions of TIMP-1 to the onplants containing TIMP-free neutrophil proMMP-9 indicated that in vivo activation of the zymogen occurred during the first 24 h after grafting. Within the onplant tissue, MMP-9 activation was accompanied by proteolytic modifications of fibrillar collagen and an influx of host proteins, the rate of which depended on the TIMP-free status of the zymogen. By quantifying the levels of host angiogenic factors, we demonstrated that basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2) was a major cytokine becoming bioavailable in the onplant tissue undergoing a neutrophil proMMP-9-mediated angiogenic switch. Inhibition of angiogenesis with specific function-blocking antibodies further indicated an involvement of a FGF-2/FGFR-2 pathway in neutrophil proMMP-9-induced angiogenesis. The enhanced angiogenesis catalyzed by neutrophil MMP-9 appears to evoke also a localized, low threshold level vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)/VEGFR-2 pathway, likely functioning in the formation and/or stabilization of blood vessels. That neutrophil proMMP-9, unencumbered by TIMP-1, directly mediates FGF-2-dependent angiogenesis was also demonstrated in our quantitative mouse angiogenesis model employing subcutaneous collagen implants, thus implicating the novel TIMP-free MMP-9/FGF-2/FGFR-2 pathway in proMMP-9-induced angiogenesis in a mammalian setting.