Protease-activated receptors (PARs) mediate cellular responses to a variety of extracellular proteases. The four known PARs constitute a subgroup of the family of seven-transmembrane domain G protein-coupled receptors and activate intracellular signalling pathways typical for this family of receptors. Activation of PARs involves proteolytic cleavage of the extracellular domain, resulting in formation of a new N terminus, which acts as a tethered ligand. PAR-1, -3, and -4 are relatively selective for activation by thrombin whereas PAR-2 is activated by a variety of proteases, including trypsin and tryptase. Recent studies in mice genetically incapable of expressing specific PARs have defined roles for PAR-1 in vascular development, and for PAR-3 and -4 in platelet activation, which plays a fundamental role in blood coagulation. PAR-1 has also been implicated in a variety of other biological processes including inflammation, and brain and muscle development. Responses mediated by PAR-2 include contraction of intestinal smooth muscle, epithelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the airways and vasculature, and potentiation of inflammatory responses. The area of PAR research is rapidly expanding our understanding of how cells communicate and control biological functions, in turn increasing our knowledge of disease processes and providing potential targets for therapeutic intervention.