Cysteine cathepsins: cellular roadmap to different functions

Biochimie. 2008 Feb;90(2):194-207. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2007.07.024. Epub 2007 Aug 6.


Cysteine cathepsins belong to the papain-like family C1 of clan CA cysteine peptidases. These enzymes are ubiquitously expressed and exert their proteolytic activity mainly, but not exclusively within the compartments along the endocytic pathway. Moreover, cysteine cathepsins are active in pericellular environments as soluble enzymes or bound to cell surface receptors at the plasma membrane, and possibly even within secretory vesicles, the cytosol, mitochondria, and within the nuclei of eukaryotic cells. Proteolytic actions performed by cysteine cathepsins are essential in the maintenance of homeostasis and depend heavily upon their correct sorting and trafficking within cells. As a consequence, the numerous and diverse approaches to identification, qualitative and quantitative determination, and visualization of cysteine cathepsin functions in vitro, in situ, and in vivo cover the entire spectrum of biochemistry, molecular and cell biology. This review focuses upon the transport pathways directing cysteine cathepsins to their points of action and thus emphasizes the broader role and functionality of cysteine cathepsins in a number of specific cellular locales. Such understanding will provide a foundation for future research investigating the involvement of these peptidases with their substrates, inhibitors, and the intertwined proteolytic networks at the hubs of complex biological systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cathepsins / analysis
  • Cathepsins / metabolism*
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / analysis
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport


  • Cathepsins
  • Cysteine Endopeptidases