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Do Aptamers Always Bind? The Need for a Multifaceted Analytical Approach When Demonstrating Binding Affinity between Aptamer and Low Molecular Weight Compounds

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journal contribution
posted on 09.11.2020, 21:29 by Fabio Bottari, Elise Daems, Anne-Mare de Vries, Pieter Van Wielendaele, Stanislav Trashin, Ronny Blust, Frank Sobott, Annemieke Madder, José C. Martins, Karolien De Wael
In this manuscript, we compare different analytical methodologies to validate or disprove the binding capabilities of aptamer sequences. This was prompted by the lack of a universally accepted and robust quality control protocol for the characterization of aptamer performances coupled with the observation of independent yet inconsistent data sets in the literature. As an example, we chose three aptamers with a reported affinity in the nanomolar range for ampicillin, a β-lactam antibiotic, used as biorecognition elements in several detection strategies described in the literature. Application of a well-known colorimetric assay based on aggregation of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) yielded conflicting results with respect to the original report. Therefore, ampicillin binding was evaluated in solution using isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC), native nano-electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (native nESI-MS), and 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H NMR). By coupling the thermodynamic data obtained with ITC with the structural information on the binding event given by native nESI-MS and 1H NMR we could verify that none of the ampicillin aptamers show any specific binding with their intended target. The effect of AuNPs on the binding event was studied by both ITC and 1H NMR, again without providing positive evidence of ampicillin binding. To validate the performance of our analytical approach, we investigated two well-characterized aptamers for cocaine/quinine (MN4), chosen for its nanomolar range affinity, and l-argininamide (1OLD) to show the versatility of our approach. The results clearly indicate the need for a multifaceted analytical approach, to unequivocally establish the actual detection potential and performance of aptamers aimed at small organic molecules.