TGFbeta is secreted as part of a latent complex that is targeted to the extracellular matrix. A variety of molecules, 'TGFbeta activators,' release TGFbeta from its latent state. The unusual temporal discontinuity of TGFbeta synthesis and action and the panoply of TGFbeta effects contribute to the interest in TGF-beta. However, the logical connections between TGFbeta synthesis, storage and action are obscure. We consider the latent TGFbeta complex as an extracellular sensor in which the TGFbeta propeptide functions as the detector, latent-TGFbeta-binding protein (LTBP) functions as the localizer, and TGF-beta functions as the effector. Such a view provides a logical continuity for various aspects of TGFbeta biology and allows us to appreciate TGFbeta biology from a new perspective.