Proteases are potential or realized therapeutic targets in a wide variety of pathological conditions. Moreover, proteases are classical subjects for studies of enzymatic and regulatory mechanisms. We here review the literature on nucleic acid aptamers selected with proteases as targets. Designing small molecule protease inhibitors of sufficient specificity has proved a daunting task. Aptamers seem to represent a promising alternative. In our review, we concentrate on biochemical mechanisms of aptamer selection, proteinaptamer recognition, protease inhibition, and advantages of aptamers for pharmacological intervention with pathophysiological functions of proteases. Aptamers can be selected so that they bind their targets highly specifically and with affinities corresponding to KD values in the nM range. Aptamers can be selected so that they recognize their targets conformation-specifically, for instance with vastly different affinities to zymogen and active enzyme forms. Furthermore, aptamers can be selected to inhibit the enzyme activity of the target proteases, but also to inhibit functionally important exosite interactions, for instance cofactor binding. Several protease-inhibiting aptamers, directed against blood coagulation factors, are in clinical trials as anticoagulant drugs. Several of the studies on protease-binding aptamers have been pioneering and trend-setting in the field. The work with protease-binding aptamers also demonstrates many interesting examples of non-standard selection strategies and of new principles for regulating the activity of the inhibitory action of aptamers of general interest to researchers working with nucleic acid aptamers.
Keywords: Cancer, coagulation, exosite, extracellular matrix, protease aptamer, review, SELEX, thrombin
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