Engineering New Protease Inhibitors Using α2-Macroglobulin

Seandean Lykke Harwood, Jan J. Enghild*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Protease inhibitors of the alpha-macroglobulin family (αM) have a unique mechanism that allows them to trap proteases that is dependent not on the protease's class, but rather on its cleavage specificity. Proteases trigger a conformational change in the αM protein by cleaving within a "bait region," resulting in the sequestering of the protease inside the αM molecule. This nonspecific inhibitory mechanism appears to have arisen early in the αM family, and the broad protease-trapping capacity that it allows may play a role in pathogen defense.Human α2-macroglobulin (A2M) is a tetrameric αM whose bait region is permissive to cleavage by most proteases, making it a broad-spectrum protease inhibitor. Recent work has demonstrated that the inhibitory capacity of A2M derives directly from its bait region sequence: modifying the bait region sequence to introduce or remove protease cleavage sites will modify A2M's inhibition of the relevant proteases accordingly. Thus, changing the amino acid sequence of the bait region presents an effective avenue for protein engineering of new protease inhibitors if the substrate specificity of the target protease is known. The design of new A2M-based protease inhibitors with tailored inhibitory capacities has potential applications in basic research and the clinic. In this chapter, we describe the general approach and considerations for the bait region engineering of A2M.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProteases and Cancer : Methods and Protocols
EditorsSalvatore Santamaria
Number of pages16
Place of publicationNew York
PublisherHumana Press
Publication date2024
ISBN (Print)978-1-0716-3588-9
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-0716-3589-6
Publication statusPublished - 2024
SeriesMethods in Molecular Biology


  • Bait region
  • Mutagenesis in vitro
  • Protease
  • Protease inhibition
  • Protein engineering
  • Proteolysis
  • α2-Macroglobulin


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