Diverse high-affinity DNA aptamers for wild-type and B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins from a pre-structured DNA library

Nucleic Acids Res. 2021 Jul 21;49(13):7267-7279. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkab574.


We performed in vitro selection experiments to identify DNA aptamers for the S1 subunit of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (S1 protein). Using a pool of pre-structured random DNA sequences, we obtained over 100 candidate aptamers after 13 cycles of enrichment under progressively more stringent selection pressure. The top 10 sequences all exhibited strong binding to the S1 protein. Two aptamers, named MSA1 (Kd = 1.8 nM) and MSA5 (Kd = 2.7 nM), were assessed for binding to the heat-treated S1 protein, untreated S1 protein spiked into 50% human saliva and the trimeric spike protein of both the wildtype and the B.1.1.7 variant, demonstrating comparable affinities in all cases. MSA1 and MSA5 also recognized the pseudotyped lentivirus of SARS-CoV-2 with respective Kd values of 22.7 pM and 11.8 pM. Secondary structure prediction and sequence truncation experiments revealed that both MSA1 and MSA5 adopted a hairpin structure, which was the motif pre-designed into the original library. A colorimetric sandwich assay was developed using MSA1 as both the recognition element and detection element, which was capable of detecting the pseudotyped lentivirus in 50% saliva with a limit of detection of 400 fM, confirming the potential of these aptamers as diagnostic tools for COVID-19 detection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aptamers, Nucleotide* / chemistry
  • Aptamers, Nucleotide* / genetics
  • Base Pairing
  • Base Sequence
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • Colorimetry / methods
  • Gene Library*
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • SELEX Aptamer Technique
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics*


  • Aptamers, Nucleotide
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2