Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 32631977
Link to DOI – 20200326710.1073/pnas.2003267117
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2020 Jul; ():
Nucleic acid aptamers selected through systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment (SELEX) fold into exquisite globular structures in complex with protein targets with diverse translational applications. Varying the chemistry of nucleotides allows evolution of nonnatural nucleic acids, but the extent to which exotic chemistries can be integrated into a SELEX selection to evolve nonnatural macromolecular binding interfaces is unclear. Here, we report the identification of a cubane-modified aptamer (cubamer) against the malaria biomarker Plasmodium vivax lactate dehydrogenase (PvLDH). The crystal structure of the complex reveals an unprecedented binding mechanism involving a multicubane cluster within a hydrophobic pocket. The binding interaction is further stabilized through hydrogen bonding via cubyl hydrogens, previously unobserved in macromolecular binding interfaces. This binding mechanism allows discriminatory recognition of P. vivax over Plasmodium falciparum lactate dehydrogenase, thereby distinguishing these highly conserved malaria biomarkers for diagnostic applications. Together, our data demonstrate that SELEX can be used to evolve exotic nucleic acids bearing chemical functional groups which enable remarkable binding mechanisms which have never been observed in biology. Extending to other exotic chemistries will open a myriad of possibilities for functional nucleic acids.