Meprins are metalloproteinases of the astacin family and metzincin superfamily that are composed of evolutionarily related α and ϐ subunits, which exist as homo- and hetero-oligomeric complexes. These complexes are abundant at the brush border membranes of kidney proximal tubule cells and epithelial cells of the intestine, and are also expressed in certain leucocytes and cancer cells. Meprins cleave bioactive peptides such as gastrin, cholecystokinin and parathyroid hormone, cytokines such as osteopontin and monocyte chemotactic peptide-1, as well as proteins such as gelatin, collagen IV, fibronectin and casein. Database predictions and initial data indicate that meprins are also capable of shedding proteins, including itself, from the cell surface. Membrane-bound meprin subunits are composed of dimeric meprin ϐ subunits or tetrameric hetero-oligomeric αϐ complexes of approx. 200-400 kDa, and can be activated at the cell surface; secreted forms of homo-oligomeric meprin α are zymogens that form high-molecular-mass complexes of 1-6 MDa. These are among the largest extracellular proteases identified thus far. The latent (self-associating) homo-oligomeric complexes can move through extracellular spaces in a non-destructive manner, and deliver a concentrated form of the metalloproteinase to sites that have activating proteases, such as sites of inflammation, infection or cancerous growth. Meprins provide examples of novel ways of concentrating proteolytic activity at the cell surface and in the extracellular milieu, which may be critical to proteolytic function.

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