PURPOSE: Expression of TIMP, intrinsic inhibitor of MMP, is regulated by signal transduction in response to genotoxins and is likely to be an important step in metastasis, angiogenesis and wound healing after ionizing radiation. Therefore, we studied radiation mediated TIMP expression and its mechanism in head and neck cancer cell lines. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Human head and neck cancer cell lines established at Asan Medical Center were used and radiosensitivity (D0), radiation cytotoxicity and metastatic potential were measured by clonogenic assay, MTT assay and invasion assay, respectively. The conditioned medium was prepared at 24 hours and 48 hours after 2 Gy and 10 Gy irradiation and expression of TIMP protein was measured by Elisa assay with specific antibodies against human TIMP. hTIMP1 promotor region was cloned and TIMP1 luciferase reporter vector was constructed. The reporter vector was transfected to AMC-HN-1 and -HN-9 cells with or without expression vector Ras, then the cells were exposed to radiation or PMA, PKC activator. EMSA was performed with oligonucleotide (-59/-53 element and SP1) of TIMP1 promotor. RESULTS: D0 of HN-1, -2, -3, -5 and -9 cell lines were 1.55 Gy, 1.8 Gy, 1.5 Gt, 1.55 Gy and 2.45 Gy respectively. MTT assay confirmed cell viability, over 94% at 24hrs, 48hrs after 2 Gy irradiation and over 73% after 10 Gy irradiation. Elisa assay confirmed that cells secreted TIMP1, 2 proteins continuously. After 2 Gy irradiation, TIMP2 secretion was decreased at 24hrs in HN-1 and HN-9 cell lines but after 10 Gy irradiation, it was increased in all cell lines. At 48hrs after irradiation, it was increased in HN-1 but decreased in HN-9 cells. But the change in TIMP secretion by RT was mild. The transcription of TIMP1 gene in HN-1 was induced by PMA but in HN-9 cell lines, it was suppressed. Wild type Ras induced the TIMP-1 transcription by 20 fold and 4 fold in HN-1 and HN-9 respectively. The binding activity to -59/-53, AP1 motif was increased by RT, but not to SP1 motif in both cell lines. CONCLUSIONS: We observed the difference of expresson and activity of TIMPs between radiosensitive and radioresistant cell line and the different signal transduction pathway between in these cell lines may contribute the different radiosensitivity. Further research to investigate the radiation response and its signal pathway of TIMPs is needed.