Identification and characterization of RNA binding sites for (p)ppGpp using RNA-DRaCALA

Nucleic Acids Res. 2023 Jan 25;51(2):852-869. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkac1224.


Ligand-binding RNAs (RNA aptamers) are widespread in the three domains of life, serving as sensors of metabolites and other small molecules. When aptamers are embedded within RNA transcripts as components of riboswitches, they can regulate gene expression upon binding their ligands. Previous methods for biochemical validation of computationally predicted aptamers are not well-suited for rapid screening of large numbers of RNA aptamers. Therefore, we utilized DRaCALA (Differential Radial Capillary Action of Ligand Assay), a technique designed originally to study protein-ligand interactions, to examine RNA-ligand binding, permitting rapid screening of dozens of RNA aptamer candidates concurrently. Using this method, which we call RNA-DRaCALA, we screened 30 ykkC family subtype 2a RNA aptamers that were computationally predicted to bind (p)ppGpp. Most of the aptamers bound both ppGpp and pppGpp, but some strongly favored only ppGpp or pppGpp, and some bound neither. Expansion of the number of biochemically verified sites allowed construction of more accurate secondary structure models and prediction of key features in the aptamers that distinguish a ppGpp from a pppGpp binding site. To demonstrate that the method works with other ligands, we also used RNA DRaCALA to analyze aptamer binding by thiamine pyrophosphate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aptamers, Nucleotide* / chemistry
  • Binding Sites
  • Biochemistry* / methods
  • Guanosine Pentaphosphate* / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Riboswitch


  • Aptamers, Nucleotide
  • Guanosine Pentaphosphate
  • Ligands
  • Riboswitch
  • RNA, Bacterial