OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to assess systematic differences between patients with acute myocardial infarction (MI) and patients with stable angina in matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) circulating levels and genetic polymorphisms. METHODS: We identified adults in a large integrated health care delivery system whose initial clinical presentation of coronary disease was either an acute MI or stable exertional angina. A total of 909 patients with acute MI, 466 patients with stable angina, and 1023 healthy older control subjects were genotyped. Serum levels of pro-MMP1, MMP2, MMP3, MMP9, and MMP10 were measured in 199 randomly selected patients from each group. RESULTS: At a median of 15 weeks after initial clinical presentation, higher circulating levels of MMP2 and MMP9 were independently associated with acute MI after statistical adjustment for conventional risk factors, hs-CRP levels, and cardiac medications. By contrast, none of the polymorphisms in MMP1, MMP2, MMP3, MMP9, or MMP10 was significantly associated with either acute MI compared with angina, or with coronary disease compared with controls. CONCLUSIONS: Circulating levels of MMP2 and MMP9 are independently associated with development of an acute MI rather than stable angina as the initial clinical presentation of coronary artery disease.