This review comprises issues concerning cysteine cathepsins (CCs): human peptidases belonging to papain family (C1) of clan CA of cysteine proteases: cathepsins B, L, H, S, K, F, V, X, W, O and C. The involvement of these enzymes in physiological and pathological processes is described, especially with respect to their application as diagnostic and prognostic markers. They participate in precursor protein activation (including proenzymes and prohormones), MHC-II-mediated antigen presentation, bone remodeling, keratinocytes differentiation, hair follicle cycle, reproduction and apoptosis. Cysteine cathepsins upregulation has been demonstrated in many human tumors, including breast, lung, brain, gastrointestinal, head and neck cancer, and melanoma. Besides cancer diseases, they have been implied to participate in inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory myopathies, rheumatoid arthritis, and periodontitis. Also, certain hereditary disorders are connected with mutations in CCs genes, what is observed in pycnodysostosis resulted from catK gene mutation and Papillon-Lefevre and Haim-Munk syndrome caused by catC gene defect. The potential application of cysteine cathepsins in diagnosis and/or prognosis is discussed in cancer diseases (breast, lung, head and neck, ovarian, gastrointestinal cancers, melanoma), as well as other disorders (periodontitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis).
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