Quenching of fluorophore-labeled DNA oligonucleotides by divalent metal ions: implications for selection, design, and applications of signaling aptamers and signaling deoxyribozymes

J Am Chem Soc. 2006 Jan 25;128(3):780-90. doi: 10.1021/ja053336n.


Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the use of fluorescence-signaling DNA aptamers and deoxyribozymes as novel biosensing moieties. Many of these functional single-stranded DNA molecules are either engineered to function in the presence of divalent metal ion cofactors or designed as sensors for specific divalent metal ions. However, many divalent metal ions are potent fluorescence quenchers. In this study, we first set out to examine the factors that contribute to quenching of DNA-bound fluorophores by commonly used divalent metal ions, with the goal of establishing general principles that can guide future exploitation of fluorescence-signaling DNA aptamers and deoxyribozymes as biosensing probes. We then extended these studies to examine the effect of specific metals on the signaling performance of both a structure-switching signaling DNA aptamer and an RNA-cleaving and fluorescence-signaling deoxyribozyme. These studies showed extensive quenching was obtained when using divalent transition metal ions owing to direct DNA-metal ion interactions, leading to combined static and dynamic quenching. The extent of quenching was dependent on the type of metal ion and the concentration of supporting monovalent cations in the buffer, with quenching increasing with the number of unpaired electrons in the metal ion and decreasing with the concentration of monovalent ions. The extent of quenching was independent of the fluorophore, indicating that quenching cannot be alleviated simply by changing the nature of the fluorescent probe. Our results also show that the DNA sequence and the local secondary structure in the region of the fluorescent tag can dramatically influence the degree of quenching by divalent transition metal ions. In particular, the extent of quenching is predominantly determined by the fluorophore location with respect to guanine-rich and duplex regions within the strand sequence. Examination of the effect of both the type and concentration of metal ions on the performance of a fluorescence-signaling aptamer and a signaling deoxyribozyme confirms that judicious choice of divalent transition metal ions is important in maximizing signals obtained from such systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aptamers, Nucleotide / chemistry*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cations, Divalent
  • Cobalt / chemistry
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA, Catalytic / chemistry*
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • Fluorometry
  • Magnesium / chemistry
  • Manganese / chemistry
  • Metals / chemistry*
  • Nickel / chemistry
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation


  • Aptamers, Nucleotide
  • Cations, Divalent
  • DNA, Catalytic
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Metals
  • Cobalt
  • Manganese
  • Nickel
  • DNA
  • Magnesium