The matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzyme family contributes to the regulation of a variety of brain extracellular matrix molecules. In order to assess their role in synaptic plasticity following traumatic brain injury (TBI), we compared expression of stromelysin-1 (MMP-3) protein and mRNA in two rodent models of TBI exhibiting different levels of recovery: adaptive synaptic plasticity following central fluid percussion injury and maladaptive synaptic plasticity generated by combined TBI and bilateral entorhinal cortical lesion (TBI + BEC). We sampled the hippocampus at 7 days postinjury, targeting a selectively vulnerable brain region and a survival interval exhibiting rapid synaptogenesis. We report elevated expression of hippocampal MMP-3 mRNA and protein after TBI. MMP-3 immunohistochemical staining showed increased protein levels relative to sham-injured controls, primarily localized to cell bodies within the deafferented dendritic laminae. Injury-related differences in MMP-3 protein were also observed. TBI alone elevated MMP-3 immunobinding over the stratum lacunosum moleculare (SLM), inner molecular layer and hilus, while TBI + BEC generated more robust increases in MMP-3 reactivity within the deafferented SLM and dentate molecular layer (DML). Double labeling with GFAP confirmed the presence of MMP-3 within reactive astrocytes induced by each injury model. Semi-quantitative RT-PCR revealed that MMP-3 mRNA also increased after each injury, however, the combined insult induced a much greater elevation than fluid percussion alone: 1.9-fold vs. 79%, respectively. In the TBI + BEC model, MMP-3 up-regulation was spatio-temporally correlated with increased enzyme activity, an effect which was attenuated with the neuroprotective compound MK-801. These results show that distinct pathological conditions elicited by TBI can differentially affect MMP-3 expression during reactive synaptic plasticity. Notably, these effects are both transcriptional and translational and are correlated with functionally active enzyme.