Proteases in brain tumour progression

Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2003 Sep;145(9):825-38. doi: 10.1007/s00701-003-0097-z.


Local invasion of tumour cells is characteristic of brain tumour progression. It is associated with increased motility and a potential to hydrolyse macromolecular components of the extracellular matrix. The peptidases that have been most investigated, and are induced during this process, are reviewed: the plasminogen activators (PAs), matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and lysosomal cysteine peptidases called cathepsins (Cats). Increased levels of urokinase-type PA (uPA) are observed mainly at the invasive margins of a tumour, whereas the data on the expression of tissue-type PA (tPA) are still controversial. It has been shown that the endogenous inhibitor of PAs, PAI-1, is localised in both tumour and tumour-associated endothelial cells. Among MMPs, the expression of the gelatinases, MMP2 and MMP9, strongly correlates with glioma progression. Membrane bound MT-MMPs, in particular MT1- and MT2-MMP, seem to play a major role in activating MMP-2. Several members of the ADAMTS family have also been detected in brain tumours, the most relevant being ADAMTS4, due to its cleavage of CNS specific proteins. Lysosomal cathepsin B is highly expressed in malignant glial cells and in endothelial cells of vascularised glioblastomas and is a predictor of a shorter survival. In addition to invasion, cathepsin L may play a role in decreased susceptibility of anaplastic glioma cells to apoptosis. Finally, cathepsin B was proposed as a marker for malignancy in the more aggressive type of meningiomas. Each of these peptidases may act alone, or in concert with the others, to support malignant behaviour of brain tumour cells; the development of new inhibitors of invasion, therefore, should contribute to the control of local spread of a tumour.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / embryology
  • Brain Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Endopeptidases / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / physiopathology*


  • Endopeptidases