Sprouting angiogenesis is an invasive process that involves proteolytic activities required for the degradation of the endothelial basement membrane, cell migration with removal of obstructing matrix proteins, and generation of space in the matrix to allow endothelial cells to form a proper lumen. In the last decade it has become clear that besides these matrix-degrading properties, proteases exert additional, more subtle functions that play a key role in angiogenesis. These functions are discussed with specific emphasis on membrane type-1 matrix metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP), other MMPs, and the related ADAMs (a disintegrin and metalloproteinase domain). Proteases modulate the balance between pro- and anti-angiogenic factors by activation and modification of growth factors and chemokines, ectodomain shedding with accompanied receptor activation, shedding of cytokines from membrane-bound precursors, and generation of (matrix) protein fragments that inhibit or activate angiogenesis. Furthermore, they participate in the recruitment of leukocytes and progenitor cells, which contribute to the onset and progression of angiogenesis. Proteases facilitate the mobilization of progenitor cells in the bone marrow as well as the entry of these cells and leukocytes into the angiogenic area. The interaction between pericytes and the newly formed endothelial tubes is accompanied by silencing of MMP activities. Better understanding of the various activities of proteases may be helpful in developing more specific inhibitors that could result in tailor-made modification of proteolytic activities in disease.
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