Multiple roles for cysteine cathepsins in cancer

Cell Cycle. 2004 Dec;3(12):1516-619. doi: 10.4161/cc.3.12.1289. Epub 2004 Dec 6.


Cysteine cathepsins are a family of proteases that have recently emerged as important players in cancer, and have variously been reported to be involved in apoptosis, angiogenesis, cell proliferation, and invasion. In normal cells, cysteine cathepsins are typically localized in lysosomes and other intracellular compartments, and are involved in protein degradation and processing. However, in certain tumors, cathepsins are translocated from their intracellular compartments to the cell surface, and can even be secreted. In addition, the expression and activity levels of some cysteine cathepsins are upregulated in human and mouse cancers. Understanding which cathepsins are critically involved, what their substrates are, and how they may be mediating these complex roles in cancer are important questions to address. We highlight recent results that begin to answer some of these questions, illustrating in particular the lessons from studying a mouse model of multistage carcinogenesis, which suggests distinctive roles for individual cysteine cathepsins in tumor progression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cathepsins / chemistry
  • Cathepsins / metabolism*
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • Cathepsins
  • Cysteine