Adv. Drug Deliv. Rev. 2018, 134, 3–21
Aptamers are single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules capable of tightly binding to specific targets. These functional nucleic acids are obtained by an in vitro Darwinian evolution method coined SELEX (Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment). Compared to their proteinaceous counterparts, aptamers offer a number of advantages including a low immunogenicity, a relative ease of large-scale synthesis at affordable costs with little or no batch-to-batch variation, physical stability, and facile chemical modification. These alluring properties have propelled aptamers into the forefront of numerous practical applications such as the development of therapeutic and diagnostic agents as well as the construction of biosensing platforms. However, commercial success of aptamers still proceeds at a weak pace. The main factors responsible for this delay are the susceptibility of aptamers to degradation by nucleases, their rapid renal filtration, suboptimal thermal stability, and the lack of functional group diversity. Here, we describe the different chemical methods available to mitigate these shortcomings. Particularly, we describe the chemical post-SELEX processing of aptamers to include functional groups as well as the inclusion of modified nucleoside triphosphates into the SELEX protocol. These methods will be illustrated with successful examples of chemically modified aptamers used as drug delivery systems, in therapeutic applications, and as biosensing devices.