Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a large family of zinc-endopeptidases which play important roles in multiple physiological and pathological processes. These enzymes are widely distributed in all kingdoms of life and have likely evolved from a single-domain protein which underwent successive rounds of duplication, gene fusion and exon shuffling events to generate the multidomain architecture and functional diversity currently exhibited by MMPs. Proper regulation of these enzymes is required to prevent their unwanted activity in a variety of disorders, including cancer, arthritis and cardiovascular diseases. Multiple hormones, cytokines and growth factors are able to induce MMP expression, although the tissue specificity of the diverse family members is mainly achieved by the combination of different transcriptional control mechanisms. The integration of multiple signaling pathways, coupled with the cooperation between several cis-regulatory elements found at the MMP promoters facilitates the strict spatiotemporal control of MMP transcriptional activity. Additionally, epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation or histone acetylation, may also contribute to MMP regulation. Likewise, post-transcriptional regulatory processes including mRNA stability, protein translational efficiency, and microRNA-based mechanisms have been recently described as modulators of MMP gene expression. Parallel studies have led to the identification of MMP polymorphisms and mutations causally implicated in the development of different genetic diseases. These genomic analyses have been further extended through the generation of animal models of gain- or loss-of-function for MMPs which have allowed the identification of novel functions for these enzymes and the establishment of causal relationships between MMP dysregulation and development of different human diseases. Further genomic studies of MMPs, including functional analysis of gene regulation and generation of novel animal models will help to answer the multiple questions still open in relation to a family of enzymes which strongly influence multiple events in life and disease.
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