Matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) is a member of the metzincin family of mostly extracellularly operating proteases. Despite the fact that all of these enzymes might be target promiscuous, with largely overlapping catalogs of potential substrates, MMP-9 has recently emerged as a major and apparently unique player in brain physiology and pathology. The specificity of MMP-9 may arise from its very local and time-restricted actions, even when released in the brain from cells of various types, including neurons, glia, and leukocytes. In fact, the quantity of MMP-9 is very low in the naive brain, but it is markedly activated at the levels of enzymatic activity, protein abundance, and gene expression following various physiological stimuli and pathological insults. Neuronal MMP-9 participates in synaptic plasticity by controlling the shape of dendritic spines and function of excitatory synapses, thus playing a pivotal role in learning, memory, and cortical plasticity. When improperly unleashed, MMP-9 contributes to a large variety of brain disorders, including epilepsy, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, brain injury, stroke, neurodegeneration, pain, brain tumors, etc. The foremost mechanism of action of MMP-9 in brain disorders appears to be its involvement in immune/inflammation responses that are related to the enzyme's ability to process and activate various cytokines and chemokines, as well as its contribution to blood–brain barrier disruption, facilitating the extravasation of leukocytes into brain parenchyma. However, another emerging possibility (i.e., the control of MMP-9 over synaptic plasticity) should not be neglected. The translational potential of MMP-9 has already been recognized in both the diagnosis and treatment domains. The most striking translational aspect may be the discovery of MMP-9 up-regulation in a mouse model of Fragile X syndrome, quickly followed by human studies and promising clinical trials that have sought to inhibit MMP-9. With regard to diagnosis, suggestions have been made to use MMP-9 alone or combined with tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase-1 or brain-derived neurotrophic factor as disease biomarkers.
MMP-9, through cleavage of specific target proteins, plays a major role in synaptic plasticity and neuroinflammation, and by those virtues contributes to brain physiology and a host of neurological and psychiatric disorders.