The relative ease of predicting the secondary structure of nucleic acid sequences lends itself to the design of sequences to perform desired functions. Here, we combine the utility of nucleic acid aptamers with predictable control over the secondary structure to rationally design sequences with controlled affinity towards a target analyte when employed as the recognition element in an electrochemical sensor. Specifically, we present a method to modify an existing high-gain aptamer sequence to create sequences that, when employed in an electrochemical, aptamer-based sensor, exhibit reduced affinity towards a small molecule analyte tobramycin. Sensors fabricated with the high-gain parent sequence saturate at concentrations much below the therapeutic window for tobramycin (7–18 µM). Accordingly, the rationale behind modifying this high-gain sequence to reduce binding affinity was to tune sensor performance for optimal sensitivity in the therapeutic window. Using secondary structure predictions and analysis of the NMR structure of an aminoglycoside RNA aptamer bound to tobramycin, we are able to successfully modify the aptamer sequence to tune the dissociation constants of electrochemical aptamer-based sensors between 0.17 and 3 µM. The guidelines we present represent a general strategy to lessening binding affinity of sensors employing aptamer-modified electrodes.
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