The membrane proteins CD38 and CD157 belong to an evolutionarily conserved family of enzymes that play crucial roles in human physiology. Expressed in distinct patterns in most tissues, CD38 (and CD157) cleaves NAD+ and NADP+, generating cyclic ADP ribose (cADPR), NAADP, and ADPR. These reaction products are essential for the regulation of intracellular Ca2+, the most ancient and universal cell signaling system. The entire family of enzymes controls complex processes, including egg fertilization, cell activation and proliferation, muscle contraction, hormone secretion, and immune responses. Over the course of evolution, the molecules have developed the ability to interact laterally and frontally with other surface proteins and have acquired receptor-like features. As detailed in this review, the loss of CD38 function is associated with impaired immune responses, metabolic disturbances, and behavioral modifications in mice. CD38 is a powerful disease marker for human leukemias and myelomas, is directly involved in the pathogenesis and outcome of human immunodeficiency virus infection and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and controls insulin release and the development of diabetes. Here, the data concerning diseases are examined in view of potential clinical applications in diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy. The concluding remarks try to frame all of the currently available information within a unified working model that takes into account both the enzymatic and receptorial functions of the molecules.
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