Discovered in the 1990s, protease activated receptors(1) (PARs) are membrane-spanning cell surface proteins that belong to the G protein coupled receptor (GPCR) family. A defining feature of these receptors is their irreversible activation by proteases; mainly serine. Proteolytic agonists remove the PAR extracellular amino terminal pro-domain to expose a new amino terminus, or tethered ligand, that binds intramolecularly to induce intracellular signal transduction via a number of molecular pathways that regulate a variety of cellular responses. By these mechanisms PARs function as cell surface sensors of extracellular and cell surface associated proteases, contributing extensively to regulation of homeostasis, as well as to dysfunctional responses required for progression of a number of diseases. This review examines common and distinguishing structural features of PARs, mechanisms of receptor activation, trafficking and signal termination, and discusses the physiological and pathological roles of these receptors and emerging approaches for modulating PAR-mediated signaling in disease.
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