Proteolytic Cleavage-Mechanisms, Function, and "Omic" Approaches for a Near-Ubiquitous Posttranslational Modification

Chem Rev. 2018 Feb 14;118(3):1137-1168. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.7b00120. Epub 2017 Dec 21.


Proteases enzymatically hydrolyze peptide bonds in substrate proteins, resulting in a widespread, irreversible posttranslational modification of the protein's structure and biological function. Often regarded as a mere degradative mechanism in destruction of proteins or turnover in maintaining physiological homeostasis, recent research in the field of degradomics has led to the recognition of two main yet unexpected concepts. First, that targeted, limited proteolytic cleavage events by a wide repertoire of proteases are pivotal regulators of most, if not all, physiological and pathological processes. Second, an unexpected in vivo abundance of stable cleaved proteins revealed pervasive, functionally relevant protein processing in normal and diseased tissue-from 40 to 70% of proteins also occur in vivo as distinct stable proteoforms with undocumented N- or C-termini, meaning these proteoforms are stable functional cleavage products, most with unknown functional implications. In this Review, we discuss the structural biology aspects and mechanisms of catalysis by different protease classes. We also provide an overview of biological pathways that utilize specific proteolytic cleavage as a precision control mechanism in protein quality control, stability, localization, and maturation, as well as proteolytic cleavage as a mediator in signaling pathways. Lastly, we provide a comprehensive overview of analytical methods and approaches to study activity and substrates of proteolytic enzymes in relevant biological models, both historical and focusing on state of the art proteomics techniques in the field of degradomics research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Metalloproteases / chemistry
  • Metalloproteases / metabolism
  • Peptide Hydrolases / chemistry
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Proteolysis
  • Proteomics*
  • Serine Proteases / chemistry
  • Serine Proteases / metabolism
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Metalloproteases
  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Serine Proteases

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