Tissue kallikreins are members of the S1 family (clan SA) of trypsin-like serine proteases and are present in at least six mammalian orders. In humans, tissue kallikreins (hK) are encoded by 15 structurally similar, steroid hormone-regulated genes (KLK) that colocalize to chromosome 19q13.4, representing the largest cluster of contiguous protease genes in the entire genome. hKs are widely expressed in diverse tissues and implicated in a range of normal physiologic functions from the regulation of blood pressure and electrolyte balance to tissue remodeling, prohormone processing, neural plasticity, and skin desquamation. Several lines of evidence suggest that hKs may be involved in cascade reactions and that cross-talk may exist with proteases of other catalytic classes. The proteolytic activity of hKs is regulated in several ways including zymogen activation, endogenous inhibitors, such as serpins, and via internal (auto)cleavage leading to inactivation. Dysregulated hK expression is associated with multiple diseases, primarily cancer. As a consequence, many kallikreins, in addition to hK3/PSA, have been identified as promising diagnostic and/or prognostic biomarkers for several cancer types, including ovarian, breast, and prostate. Recent data also suggest that hKs may be causally involved in carcinogenesis, particularly in tumor metastasis and invasion, and, thus, may represent attractive drug targets to consider for therapeutic intervention.
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