Function and dynamics of aptamers: A case study on the malachite green aptamer
Aptamers are short single-stranded nucleic acids that can bind to their targets with high specificity and high affinity. To study aptamer function and dynamics, the malachite green aptamer was chosen as a model. Malachite green (MG) bleaching, in which an OH- attacks the central carbon (C1) of MG, was inhibited in the presence of the malachite green aptamer (MGA). The inhibition of MG bleaching by MGA could be reversed by an antisense oligonucleotide (AS) complementary to the MGA binding pocket. Computational cavity analysis of the NMR structure of the MGA-MG complex predicted that the OH- is sterically excluded from the C1 of MG. The prediction was confirmed experimentally using variants of the MGA with changes in the MG binding pocket. This work shows that molecular reactivity can be reversibly regulated by an aptamer-AS pair based on steric hindrance. In addition to demonstrate that aptamers could control molecular reactivity, aptamer dynamics was studied with a strategy combining molecular dynamics (MD) simulation and experimental verification. MD simulation predicted that the MG binding pocket of the MGA is largely pre-organized and that binding of MG involves reorganization of the pocket and a simultaneous twisting of the MGA terminal stems around the pocket. MD simulation also provided a 3D-structure model of unoccupied MGA that has not yet been obtained by biophysical measurements. These predictions were consistent with biochemical and biophysical measurements of the MGA-MG interaction including RNase I footprinting, melting curves, thermodynamic and kinetic constants measurement. This work shows that MD simulation can be used to extend our understanding of the dynamics of aptamer-target interaction which is not evident from static 3D-structures. To conclude, I have developed a novel concept to control molecular reactivity by an aptamer based on steric protection and a strategy to study the dynamics of aptamer-target interaction by combining MD simulation and experimental verification. The former has potential application in controlling metabolic reactions and protein modifications by small reactants and the latter may serve as a general approach to study the dynamics of aptamer-target interaction for new insights into mechanisms of aptamer-target recognition.