The term ‘casein kinase’ has been widely used for decades to denote protein kinases sharing the ability to readily phosphorylate casein in vitro. These fall into three main classes: two of them, later renamed as protein kinases CK1 (casein kinase 1, also known as CKI) and CK2 (also known as CKII), are pleiotropic members of the kinome functionally unrelated to casein, whereas G-CK, or genuine casein kinase, responsible for the phosphorylation of casein in the Golgi apparatus of the lactating mammary gland, has only been identified recently with Fam20C [family with sequence similarity 20C; also known as DMP-4 (dentin matrix protein-4)], a member of the four-jointed family of atypical protein kinases, being responsible for the phosphorylation of many secreted proteins. In hindsight, therefore, the term ‘casein kinase’ is misleading in every instance; in the case of CK1 and CK2, it is because casein is not a physiological substrate, and in the case of G-CK/Fam20C/DMP-4, it is because casein is just one out of a plethora of its targets, and a rather marginal one at that. Strikingly, casein kinases altogether, albeit representing a minimal proportion of the whole kinome, appear to be responsible for the generation of up to 40–50% of non-redundant phosphosites currently retrieved in human phosphopeptides database. In the present review, a short historical explanation will be provided accounting for the usage of the same misnomer to denote three unrelated classes of protein kinases, together with an update of our current knowledge of these pleiotropic enzymes, sharing the same misnomer while playing very distinct biological roles.

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