Tryptases comprise a group of trypsin-like serine proteases that are highly and selectively expressed in mast cells and to a lesser extent in basophils. Among them interest has been focused on tryptase β, primarily because it was the first tryptase identified and because it is the predominant protease and protein component of mast cells. Subsequent studies have provided convincing evidence that tryptase β is not only a clinically useful marker of mast cells and their activation but that it contributes to the pathogenesis of allergic inflammatory disorders, most notably asthma. The pathogenetic relevance together with the apparent lack of overt physiological functions has caused considerable interest in β-tryptase as a potential therapeutic target. Meanwhile diverse tryptase inhibitors have been synthesized whose design in part was fostered by the structural analysis of the enzymatically active β tryptase tetramer. Various compounds have been studied both in animal models and in man, providing proof of principle that tryptase inhibitors have therapeutic potential in asthma. Here we review the rationale to develop tryptase inhibitors and the approaches pursued, and also try to pinpoint some of the problems that hamper the development of clinically applicable drugs.
Keywords: Mast cells, tryptases, tryptase inhibitors, allergic inflammation, asthma
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