The purpose of this study was to evaluate the Rcho-1 trophoblast culture system as a model for studying trophoblast invasion and to examine stage-specific expression of enzyme(s) potentially participating in rat trophoblast giant cell invasive behavior. The invasive behavior of the differentiating Rcho-1 trophoblast cells was demonstrated using Matrigel invasion chambers. Gelatin zymography and Western blot analysis of conditioned medium from differentiating Rcho-1 trophoblast cell cultures and rat ectoplacental cone outgrowths revealed a differentiation-dependent increase in gelatinase B/matrix metalloproteinase (MMP-9). Nothern blot and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analyses of Rcho-1 trophoblast or ectoplacental cone cells also showed increasing expression of MMP-9 accompanying cell differentiation. Rcho-1 trophoblast cells stably transfected with MMP-9 promoter/luciferase reporter constructs exhibited a differentiation-dependent increase in MMP-9 promoter activation. In conclusion, trophoblast giant cell differentiation is characterized by transcriptional activation of the MMP-9 gene and appearance of the invasive phenotype.