Ectopeptidases are transmembrane proteins present in a wide variety of tissues and cell types. Dysregulated expression of certain ectopeptidases in human malignancies suggests their value as clinical markers. Ectopeptidase interaction with agonistic antibodies or their inhibitors has revealed that these ectoenzymes are able to modulate bioactive peptide responses and to influence growth, apoptosis and differentiation, as well as adhesion and motility, all functions involved in normal and tumoral processes. There is evidence that ectopeptidase-mediated signal transduction frequently involves tyrosine phosphorylation. Combined analyses of gene organization and regulation of ectopeptidases by various physiological factors have provided insights into their structure–function relationships. Understanding the roles of ectopeptidases in pathophysiology may have implications in considering them as therapeutic targets. BioEssays 23:251–260, 2001. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.