• cancer;
  • isothermal titration calorimetry;
  • NMR spectroscopy;
  • peptide-protease interactions;
  • X-ray structures


The development of protease inhibitors for pharmacological intervention has taken a new turn with the use of peptide-based inhibitors. Here, we report the rational design of bicyclic peptide inhibitors of the serine protease urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA), based on the established monocyclic peptide, upain-2. It was successfully converted to a bicyclic peptide, without loss of inhibitory properties. The aim was to produce a peptide cyclised by an amide bond with an additional stabilising across-the-ring covalent bond. We expected this bicyclic peptide to exhibit a lower entropic burden upon binding. Two bicyclic peptides were synthesised with affinities similar to that of upain-2, and their binding energetics were evaluated by isothermal titration calorimetry. Indeed, compared to upain-2, the bicyclic peptides showed reduced loss of entropy upon binding to uPA. We also investigated the solution structures of the bicyclic peptide by NMR spectroscopy to map possible conformations. An X-ray structure of the bicyclic-peptide–uPA complex confirmed an interaction similar to that for the previous upain-1/upain-2–uPA complexes. These physical studies of the peptide–protease interactions will aid future designs of bicyclic peptide protease inhibitors.