Abdominal aortic aneurysms represent a life-threatening condition characterized by chronic inflammation, destructive remodeling of the extracellular matrix, and increased local expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Both 92-kD gelatinase (MMP-9) and macrophage elastase (MMP-12) have been implicated in this disease, but it is not known if either is necessary in aneurysmal degeneration. We show here that transient elastase perfusion of the mouse aorta results in delayed aneurysm development that is temporally associated with transmural mononuclear inflammation, increased local production of several elastolytic MMPs, and progressive destruction of the elastic lamellae. Elastase-induced aneurysmal degeneration was suppressed by treatment with a nonselective MMP inhibitor (doxycycline) and by targeted gene disruption of MMP-9, but not by isolated deficiency of MMP-12. Bone marrow transplantation from wild-type mice prevented the aneurysm-resistant phenotype in MMP-9-deficient animals, and wild-type mice acquired aneurysm resistance after transplantation from MMP-9- deficient donors. These results demonstrate that inflammatory cell expression of MMP-9 plays a critical role in an experimental model of aortic aneurysm disease, suggesting that therapeutic strategies targeting MMP-9 may limit the growth of small abdominal aortic aneurysms.