Specificity and Ligand Affinities of the Cocaine Aptamer: Impact of Structural Features and Physiological NaCl

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Sachan A., Ilgu M., Kempema A., Kraus G. A., Nilsen-Hamilton M.

ANALYTICAL CHEMISTRY, vol.88, no.15, pp.7715-7723, 2016 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 88 Issue: 15
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Doi Number: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b01633
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.7715-7723
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: No


The cocaine aptamer has been seen as a good candidate for development as a probe for cocaine in many contexts. Here, we demonstrate that the aptamer binds cocaine, norcocaine, and cocaethylene with similar affinities and aminoglycosides with similar or higher affinities in a mutually exclusive manner with cocaine. Analysis of its affinities for a series of cocaine derivatives shows that the aptamer specificity is the consequence of its interaction with all faces of the cocaine molecule. Circular dichroism spectroscopy and 2-aminopurine (2AP) fluorescence studies show no evidence of large structural rearrangement of the cocaine aptamer upon ligand binding, which is contrary to the general view of this aptamer. The aptamer's affinity for cocaine and neomycin-B decreases with the inclusion of physiological NaCl. The substitution, of 2AP for A in position 6 (2AP6) of the aptamer sequence eliminated the effect of NaCl on its affinities for cocaine and analogues, but not for neomycin-B, showing a selective effect of 2AP substitution on cocaine binding. The affinity for cocaine also decreased with increasing concentrations of serum or urine, with the 2AP6 substitution blunting the effect of urine. Its low affinities for cocaine and metabolites and its ability to bind irrelevant compounds limit the opportunities for application of this aptamer in its current form as a selective and reliable sensor for cocaine. However, these studies also show that a small structural adjustment to the aptamer (2AP exchanged for adenine) can increase its specificity for cocaine in physiological NaCl relative to an off-target ligand.