Due to their high affinity and specificity, aptamers have been widely used as effective inhibitors in clinical applications. However, the ability to activate protein function through aptamer-protein interaction has not been well-elucidated. To investigate their potential as target-specific agonists, we used SELEX to generate aptamers to the insulin receptor (IR) and identified an agonistic aptamer named IR-A48 that specifically binds to IR, but not to IGF-1 receptor. Despite its capacity to stimulate IR autophosphorylation, similar to insulin, we found that IR-A48 not only binds to an allosteric site distinct from the insulin binding site, but also preferentially induces Y1150 phosphorylation in the IR kinase domain. Moreover, Y1150-biased phosphorylation induced by IR-A48 selectively activates specific signaling pathways downstream of IR. In contrast to insulin-mediated activation of IR, IR-A48 binding has little effect on the MAPK pathway and proliferation of cancer cells. Instead, AKT S473 phosphorylation is highly stimulated by IR-A48, resulting in increased glucose uptake both in vitro and in vivo. Here, we present IR-A48 as a biased agonist able to selectively induce the metabolic activity of IR through allosteric binding. Furthermore, our study also suggests that aptamers can be a promising tool for developing artificial biased agonists to targeted receptors.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.