Searching the Sequence Space for Potent Aptamers Using SELEX in Silico.

Research paper by Qingtong Q Zhou, Xiaole X Xia, Zhaofeng Z Luo, Haojun H Liang, Eugene E Shakhnovich

Indexed on: 09 Dec '15Published on: 09 Dec '15Published in: Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation


To isolate functional nucleic acids that bind to defined targets with high affinity and specificity, which are known as aptamers, the systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment (SELEX) methodology has emerged as the preferred approach. Here, we propose a computational approach, SELEX in silico, that allows the sequence space to be more thoroughly explored regarding binding of a certain target. Our approach consists of two steps: (i) secondary structure-based sequence screening, which aims to collect the sequences that can form a desired RNA motif as an enhanced initial library, followed by (ii) sequence enrichment regarding target binding by molecular dynamics simulation-based virtual screening. Our SELEX in silico method provided a practical computational solution to three key problems in aptamer sequence searching: design of nucleic acid libraries, knowledge of sequence enrichment, and identification of potent aptamers. Six potent theophylline-binding aptamers, which were isolated by SELEX in silico from a sequence space containing 4(13) sequences, were experimentally verified to bind theophylline with high affinity: Kd ranging from 0.16 to 0.52 μM, compared with the dissociation constant of the original aptamer-theophylline, 0.32 μM. These results demonstrate the significant potential of SELEX in silico as a new method for aptamer discovery and optimization.