Evidence suggests that thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1), a 450-kDa glycoprotein in platelets and extracellular matrix, is involved in angiogenesis. However, the mechanisms by which TSP-1 regulates angiogenesis are unknown, and the exact role of TSP-1 in angiogenesis has been controversial: both stimulatory and inhibitory effects of TSP-1 have been reported. In this study, we evaluated the effect of TSP-1 on the capacity of bovine aortic endothelial (BAE) cells to both invade and form microvessel-like tubes in collagen gels. BAE cell tube formation was enhanced by exogenous TSP-1 at relatively low concentrations (1-10 μg/ml) but inhibited at higher concentrations of TSP-1 (>15 mg/ml). In addition, we correlated this biphasic effect on tube formation with the capacity of TSP-1 to stimulate the activity of a matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) in BAE cell collagen gel cultures. The TSP-l- mediated stimulation of MMP-9 activity was specific and dose- and time- dependent. Furthermore, TSP-1-stimulated BAE cell invasion and tube formation were reversed by antibodies against both TSP-1 and MMP-9, suggesting that TSP-1 modulates endothelial cell invasion and morphogenesis in vitro by a mechanism involving the regulation of MMP-9 activity. These findings support the conclusion that TSP-1 is a multifunctional modulator of angiogenesis and are consistent with the dynamic presence of TSP-1 in remodeling tissues in which matrix degradation is required.