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Functional protease profiling for diagnosis of malignant disease



Clinical proteomic profiling by mass spectrometry (MS) aims at uncovering specific alterations within mass profiles of clinical specimens that are of diagnostic value for the detection and classification of various diseases including cancer. However, despite substantial progress in the field, the clinical proteomic profiling approaches have not matured into routine diagnostic applications so far. Their limitations are mainly related to high-abundance proteins and their complex processing by a multitude of endogenous proteases thus making rigorous standardization difficult. MS is biased towards the detection of low-molecular-weight peptides. Specifically, in serum specimens, the particular fragments of proteolytically degraded proteins are amenable to MS analysis. Proteases are known to be involved in tumour progression and tumour-specific proteases are released into the blood stream presumably as a result of invasive progression and metastasis. Thus, the determination of protease activity in clinical specimens from patients with malignant disease can offer diagnostic and also therapeutic options. The identification of specific substrates for tumour proteases in complex biological samples is challenging, but proteomic screens for proteases/substrate interactions are currently experiencing impressive progress. Such proteomic screens include peptide-based libraries, differential isotope labelling in combination with MS, quantitative degradomic analysis of proteolytically generated neo-N-termini, monitoring the degradation of exogenous reporter peptides with MS, and activity-based protein profiling. In the present article, we summarize and discuss the current status of proteomic techniques to identify tumour-specific protease-substrate interactions for functional protease profiling. Thereby, we focus on the potential diagnostic use of the respective approaches.