CD147 or EMMPRIN is a member of the immunoglobulin superfamily in humans. It is widely expressed in human tumors and plays a central role in the progression of many cancers by stimulating the secretion of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and cytokines. CD147 regulates cell proliferation, apoptosis, and tumor cell migration, metastasis and differentiation, especially under hypoxic conditions. CD147 is also important to many organ systems. This review will provide a detailed overview of the discovery, characterization, molecular structure, diverse biological functions and regulatory mechanisms of CD147 in human physiological and pathological processes. In particular, recent studies have demonstrated the potential application of CD147 not only as a phenotypic marker of activated regulatory T cells but also as a potential diagnostic marker for early-stage disease. Moreover, CD147 is recognized as an effective therapeutic target for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and other cancers, and exciting clinical progress has been made in HCC treatment using CD147-directed monoclonal antibodies.