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Many serine proteases play important regulatory roles in complex biological systems, but only a few have been linked directly with capillary morphogenesis and angiogenesis. Here we provide evidence that serine protease activities, independent of the plasminogen activation cascade, are required for microvascular endothelial cell reorganization and capillary morphogenesis in vitro. A homology cloning approach targeting conserved motifs present in all serine proteases, was used to identify candidate serine proteases involved in these processes, and revealed 5 genes (acrosin, testisin, neurosin, PSP and neurotrypsin), none of which had been associated previously with expression in endothelial cells. A subsequent gene-specific RT-PCR screen for 22 serine proteases confirmed expression of these 5 genes and identified 7 additional serine protease genes expressed by human endothelial cells, urokinase-type plasminogen activator, protein C, TMPRSS2, hepsin, matriptase/MT-SP1, dipeptidylpeptidase IV, and seprase. Differences in serine protease gene expression between microvascular and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) were identified and several serine protease genes were found to be regulated by the nature of the substratum, ie. artificial basement membrane or fibrillar type I collagen. mRNA transcripts of several serine protease genes were associated with blood vessels in vivo by in situ hybridization of human tissue specimens. These data suggest a potential role for serine proteases, not previously associated with endothelium, in vascular function and angiogenesis.