Human matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) belong to the M10 family of the MA clan of endopeptidases. They are ubiquitarian enzymes, structurally characterized by an active site where a Zn(2+) atom, coordinated by three histidines, plays the catalytic role, assisted by a glutamic acid as a general base. Various MMPs display different domain composition, which is very important for macromolecular substrates recognition. Substrate specificity is very different among MMPs, being often associated to their cellular compartmentalization and/or cellular type where they are expressed. An extensive review of the different MMPs structural and functional features is integrated with their pathological role in several types of diseases, spanning from cancer to cardiovascular diseases and to neurodegeneration. It emerges a very complex and crucial role played by these enzymes in many physiological and pathological processes.
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