The aspartic protease cathepsin E has been shown to induce apoptosis in cancer cells under physiological conditions. Therefore, cathepsin E-activity-enhancing peptides functioning in the physiological pH range are valuable potential cancer therapeutic candidates. Here, we have used a general in vitro selection method (evolutionary rapid panning analysis system (eRAPANSY)), based on inverse substrate-function link (SF-link) selection to successfully identify cathepsin E-activity-enhancing peptide aptamers at neutral pH. A successive enrichment of peptide activators was attained in the course of selection. One such peptide activated cathepsin E up to 260, had a high affinity (KD; 300nM), and had physiological activity as demonstrated by its apoptosis-inducing reaction in cancerous cells. This method is expected to be widely applicable for the identification of protease-activity-enhancing peptide aptamers.
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