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      Fluorescence Sensing Using DNA Aptamers in Cancer Research and Clinical Diagnostics

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          Among the various advantages of aptamers over antibodies, remarkable is their ability to tolerate a large number of chemical modifications within their backbone or at the termini without losing significant activity. Indeed, aptamers can be easily equipped with a wide variety of reporter groups or coupled to different carriers, nanoparticles, or other biomolecules, thus producing valuable molecular recognition tools effective for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. This review reports an updated overview on fluorescent DNA aptamers, designed to recognize significant cancer biomarkers both in soluble or membrane-bound form. In many examples, the aptamer secondary structure switches induced by target recognition are suitably translated in a detectable fluorescent signal using either fluorescently-labelled or label-free aptamers. The fluorescence emission changes, producing an enhancement (“signal-on”) or a quenching (“signal-off”) effect, directly reflect the extent of the binding, thereby allowing for quantitative determination of the target in bioanalytical assays. Furthermore, several aptamers conjugated to fluorescent probes proved to be effective for applications in tumour diagnosis and intraoperative surgery, producing tumour-type specific, non-invasive in vivo imaging tools for cancer pre- and post-treatment assessment.

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            Aptamers as therapeutics

            Key Points Aptamers are single-stranded oligonucleotides that fold into defined architectures and bind to targets such as proteins. In binding proteins they often inhibit protein–protein interactions and thereby may elicit therapeutic effects such as antagonism. Aptamers are discovered using SELEX (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment), a directed in vitro evolution technique in which large libraries of degenerate oligonucleotides are iteratively and alternately partitioned for target binding. They are then amplified enzymatically until functional sequences are identified by the sequencing of cloned individuals. For most therapeutic purposes, aptamers are truncated to reduce synthesis costs, modified at the sugars and capped at their termini to increase nuclease resistance, and conjugated to polyethylene glycol or another entity to reduce renal filtration rates. The first aptamer approved for a therapeutic application was pegaptanib sodium (Macugen; Pfizer/Eyetech), which was approved in 2004 by the US Food and Drug Administration for macular degeneration. Eight other aptamers are currently undergoing clinical evaluation for various haematology, oncology, ocular and inflammatory indications. Aptamers are ultimately chemically synthesized in a readily scalable process in which specific conjugation points are introduced with defined stereochemistry. Unlike some protein therapeutics, aptamers do not elicit antibodies, and because aptamers generally contain sugars modified at their 2′-positions, Toll-like receptor-mediated innate immune responses are also abrogated. As aptamers are oligonucleotides they can be readily assembled into supramolecular multi-component structures using hybridization. Owing to the fact that binding to appropriate cell-surface targets can lead to internalization, aptamers can also be used to deliver therapeutic cargoes such as small interfering RNA. Supramolecular assemblies of aptamers and delivery agents have already been demonstrated in vivo and may pave the way for further therapeutic strategies with this modality in the future.
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                Author and article information

                Cancers (Basel)
                Cancers (Basel)
                20 December 2017
                December 2017
                : 9
                : 12
                [1 ]Department of Chemical Sciences, University of Napoli Federico II, Via Cintia 21, 80126 Napoli, Italy; domenica.musumeci@ (D.M.); chiara.platella@ (C.P.); claudia.riccardi@ (C.R.); mocciafederica@ (F.M.)
                [2 ]CNR, Istituto di Biostrutture e Bioimmagini, Via Mezzocannone 16, 80134 Napoli, Italy
                [3 ]CNR, Istituto per l’Endocrinologia e l’Oncologia “Gaetano Salvatore,” Via Pansini 5, 80131 Napoli, Italy
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                © 2017 by the authors.

                Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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