Quinine binding by the cocaine-binding aptamer. Thermodynamic and hydrodynamic analysis of high-affinity binding of an off-target ligand

Oren Reinstein, Mina Yoo, Chris Han, Tsering Palmo, Simone Alexandra Beckham, Matthew Charles James Wilce, Philip Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The cocaine-binding aptamer is unusual in that it tightly binds molecules other than the ligand it was selected for. Here, we study the interaction of the cocaine-binding aptamer with one of these off-target ligands, quinine. Isothermal titration calorimetry was used to quantify the quinine-binding affinity and thermodynamics of a set of sequence variants of the cocaine-binding aptamer. We find that the affinity of the cocaine-binding aptamer for quinine is 30-40 times stronger than it is for cocaine. Competitive-binding studies demonstrate that both quinine and cocaine bind at the same site on the aptamer. The ligand-induced structural-switching binding mechanism of an aptamer variant that contains three base pairs in stem 1 is retained with quinine as a ligand. The short stem 1 aptamer is unfolded or loosely folded in the free form and becomes folded when bound to quinine. This folding is confirmed by NMR spectroscopy and by the short stem 1 construct having a more negative change in heat capacity of quinine binding than is seen when stem 1 has six base pairs. Small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) studies of the free aptamer and both the quinine- and the cocaine-bound forms show that, for the long stem 1 aptamers, the three forms display similar hydrodynamic properties, and the ab initio shape reconstruction structures are very similar. For the short stem 1 aptamer there is a greater variation among the SAXS-derived ab initio shape reconstruction structures, consistent with the changes expected with its structural-switching binding mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8652 - 8662
Number of pages11
Issue number48
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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