Electrophoretic mobility shift as a molecular beacon-based readout for miRNA detection

Biosens Bioelectron. 2021 Oct 1:189:113307. doi: 10.1016/j.bios.2021.113307. Epub 2021 May 15.


MicroRNAs are short, non-coding RNA sequences involved in gene expression regulation. Quantification of miRNAs in biological fluids involves time consuming and laborious methods such as Northern blotting or PCR-based techniques. Molecular beacons (MB) are an attractive means for rapid detection of miRNAs, although the need for sophisticated readout methods limits their use in research and clinical settings. Here, we introduce a novel method based on delayed electrophoretic mobility, as a quantitative means for detection of miRNAs-MB hybridization. Upon hybridization with the target miRNAs, MB form a fluorescent duplex with reduced electrophoretic mobility, thus bypassing the need for additional staining. In addition to emission of light, the location of the fluorescent band on the gel acts as an orthogonal validation of the target identity, further confirming the specificity of binding. The limit of detection of this approach is approximately 100 pM, depending on the MB sequence. The method is sensitive enough to detect specific red blood cell miRNAs molecules in total RNA, with single nucleotide specificity. Altogether, we describe a rapid and affordable method that offers sensitive detection of single-stranded small DNA and RNA sequences.

Keywords: Electrophoretic mobility; Gel electrophoresis; Molecular beacons; microRNA (miRNA).

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization


  • MicroRNAs