Here we show that endothelial cells (EC) require matrix type 1-metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP) for the formation of lumens and tube networks in 3-dimensional (3D) collagen matrices. A fundamental consequence of EC lumen formation is the generation of vascular guidance tunnels within collagen matrices through an MT1-MMP-dependent proteolytic process. Vascular guidance tunnels represent a conduit for EC motility within these spaces (a newly remodeled 2D matrix surface) to both assemble and remodel tube structures. Interestingly, it appears that twice as many tunnel spaces are created than are occupied by tube networks after several days of culture. After tunnel formation, these spaces represent a 2D migratory surface within 3D collagen matrices allowing for EC migration in an MMP-independent fashion. Blockade of EC lumenogenesis using inhibitors that interfere with the process (eg, integrin, MMP, PKC, Src) completely abrogates the formation of vascular guidance tunnels. Thus, the MT1-MMP-dependent proteolytic process that creates tunnel spaces is directly and functionally coupled to the signaling mechanisms required for EC lumen and tube network formation. In summary, a fundamental and previously unrecognized purpose of EC tube morphogenesis is to create networks of matrix conduits that are necessary for EC migration and tube remodeling events critical to blood vessel assembly.