Transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta) plays a central role in a number of developmental and pathological processes. There are 3 isoforms of TGFbeta (1-3) and all are sequestered in the extracellular matrix as latent complexes. Activation of this complex is the key biological checkpoint controlling TGF-beta bioavailability. This process is tightly regulated in a temporal, spatial and isoform specific manner highlighting its importance. There are many different mechanisms by which TGF-beta can be activated. Both serine and metalloproteinases play an important role in TGF-beta activation, at least in vitro, and many of these proteases have been implicated in pathological conditions. The mechanism of activation is distinct between the different proteases, but is not conserved between the two groups. Both serine proteases, such as plasmin, and metalloproteases, such as MMP2, can directly cleave latent TGFbeta, whereas others, such as thrombin and MMP14, interact with integrin mediated TGFbeta activation pathways. However, further studies are still required to fully understand the relevance of all of these pathways in vivo. Currently, the best described mechanism of TGF-beta1 activation in vivo is by integrins, although this process can be modulated by proteases. The primary mechanism of TGF-beta2 and TGF-beta3 activation has yet to be defined in vivo, although it is likely that TGF-beta3 is activated in a similar manner to TGF-beta1. This review describes the mechanism of protease driven TGF-beta activation, and discusses the physiological and pathological relevance of this process.