During early human pregnancy, fetal cytotrophoblasts rapidly invade the uterus. This process has many similarities to tumor invasion, except that the extent and the timing of cytotrophoblast invasion are carefully regulated. Therefore, this system is particularly useful for studying mechanisms that regulate invasive processes. Previously, we showed that production and activation of the 92-kDa type IV collagenase (matrix metalloproteinase(MMP)-9) is necessary for cytotrophoblast invasion in vitro. In other systems, interleukin (IL)-1 beta is an important regulator of matrix-degrading metalloproteinases. Therefore, we investigated trophoblast production of IL-1 beta and its receptors, as well as the effects of this cytokine on cytotrophoblast metalloproteinase activity and invasion. The results showed that release of IL-1 beta parallels the invasive potential of the cytotrophoblasts; the highest levels are produced by first trimester cells and the lowest levels by term cells. Immunoprecipitation showed that cytotrophoblasts express the 80-kDa type I IL-1 receptor, suggesting that autocrine effects are possible. IL-1 beta stimulated trophoblast MMP-9 secretion (by a mechanism that required nascent mRNA and protein synthesis) as well as metalloproteinase activity and invasion of Matrigel. Increasing (by lipopolysaccharide treatment) or decreasing (by glucocorticoid treatment) IL-1 beta production had parallel effects on MMP-9 secretion, metalloproteinase activity, and invasion. Because IL-1 beta and corticosteroids are present in high concentrations at the maternal-fetal interface, normal trophoblast invasion may be regulated, in part, by their opposing actions. In contrast, stimulation of cytotrophoblast IL-1 beta secretion by lipopolysaccharide may play a role in the sequela of infected fetal membranes.