Microvascular integrity is lost during focal cerebral ischemia. The degradation of the basal lamina and extracellular matrix are, in part, responsible for the loss of vascular integrity. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) may play a primary role in basal lamina degradation. By using a sensitive modification of gelatin zymography, the authors investigated the activity of MMP-2 and MMP-9 in frozen 10-microm sections of ischemic and nonischemic basal ganglia and plasma samples of 27 non-human primates after middle cerebral artery occlusion/reperfusion (MCAO/R) for various periods. The gelatinolytic activities were compared with parallel cell dUTP incorporation in the ischemic zones of adjacent sections. In the brain, the integrated density of MMP-2 increased significantly by 1 hour after MCAO and was persistently elevated thereafter. Matrix metalloproteinase-2 expression was highly correlated with the extent of neuron injury and the number of injured neurons (r = 0.9763, SE = 0.004, 2P < 0.0008). Matrix metalloproteinase-9 expression only was significantly increased in subjects with hemorrhagic transformation. In plasma, only MMP-9 increased transiently at 2 hours of MCAO. These findings highlight the early potential role of MMP-2 in the degradation of basal lamina leading to neuronal injury, and an association of MMP-9 with hemorrhagic transformation after focal cerebral ischemia.