The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has created an urgent need for new technologies to treat COVID-19. Here we report a 2'-fluoro protected RNA aptamer that binds with high affinity to the receptor binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, thereby preventing its interaction with the host receptor ACE2. A trimerized version of the RNA aptamer matching the three RBDs in each spike complex enhances binding affinity down to the low picomolar range. Binding mode and specificity for the aptamer-spike interaction is supported by biolayer interferometry, single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, and flow-induced dispersion analysis in vitro. Cell culture experiments using virus-like particles and live SARS-CoV-2 show that the aptamer and, to a larger extent, the trimeric aptamer can efficiently block viral infection at low concentration. Finally, the aptamer maintains its high binding affinity to spike from other circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains, suggesting that it could find widespread use for the detection and treatment of SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants.
Keywords: SARS-CoV-2 targeting; aptamer multimerization; aptamer selection; spike protein; viral neutralization.
Copyright © 2021 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.