Kallikreins are serine proteases with diverse physiologic functions. They are represented by multigene families in many animal species, especially in rat and mouse. Recently, the human kallikrein gene family has been fully characterized and includes 15 members, tandemly localized on chromosome 19q13.4. A new definition has now been proposed for kallikreins, which is not based on function but, rather, on close proximity and structural similarities. In this review, we summarize available information about kallikreins in many animal species with special emphasis on human kallikreins. We discuss the common structural features of kallikreins at the DNA, mRNA and protein levels and overview their evolutionary history. Kallikreins are expressed in a wide range of tissues including the salivary gland, endocrine or endocrine-related tissues such as testis, prostate, breast and endometrium and in the central nervous system. Most, if not all, genes are under steroid hormone regulation. Accumulating evidence indicates that kallikreins are involved in many pathologic conditions. Of special interest is the potential role of kallikreins in the central nervous system. In addition, many kallikreins seem to be candidate tumor markers for many malignancies, especially those of endocrine-related organs.