Interleukin-17 (IL-17) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine produced primarily by a subset of CD4+ T cells, called Th17 cells, that is involved in host defense, inflammation and autoimmune disorders. The two most structurally related IL-17 family members, IL-17A and IL-17F, form homodimeric (IL-17A/A, IL-17F/F) and heterodimeric (IL-17A/F) complexes. Although the biological significance of IL-17A and IL-17F have been investigated using respective antibodies or gene knockout mice, the functional study of IL-17A/F heterodimeric form has been hampered by the lack of an inhibitory tool specific to IL-17A/F. In this study, we aimed to develop an RNA aptamer that specifically inhibits IL-17A/F. Aptamers are short single-stranded nucleic acid sequences that are selected in vitro based on their high affinity to a target molecule. One selected aptamer against human IL-17A/F, AptAF42, was isolated by repeated cycles of selection and counterselection against heterodimeric and homodimeric complexes, respectively. Thus, AptAF42 bound IL-17A/F but not IL-17A/A or IL-17F/F. The optimized derivative, AptAF42dope1, blocked the binding of IL-17A/F, but not of IL-17A/A or IL-17F/F, to the IL-17 receptor in the surface plasmon resonance assay in vitro. Consistently, AptAF42dope1 blocked cytokine GRO-α production induced by IL-17A/F, but not by IL-17A/A or IL-17F/F, in human cells. An RNA footprinting assay using ribonucleases against AptAF42dope1 in the presence or absence of IL-17A/F revealed that part of the predicted secondary structure fluctuates between alternate forms and that AptAF42dope1 is globally protected from ribonuclease cleavage by IL-17A/F. These results suggest that the selected aptamer recognizes a global conformation specified by the heterodimeric surface of IL-17A/F.
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