Evolutionary landscapes for the acquisition of new ligand recognition by RNA aptamers.
The evolution of ligand specificity underlies many important problems in biology, from the appearance of drug resistant pathogens to the re-engineering of substrate specificity in enzymes. In studying biomolecules, however, the contributions of macromolecular sequence to binding specificity can be obscured by other selection pressures critical to bioactivity. Evolution of ligand specificity in vitro--unconstrained by confounding biological factors--is addressed here using variants of three flavin-binding RNA aptamers. Mutagenized pools based on the three aptamers were combined and allowed to compete during in vitro selection for GMP-binding activity. The sequences of the resulting selection isolates were diverse, even though most were derived from the same flavin-binding parent. Individual GMP aptamers differed from the parental flavin aptamers by 7 to 26 mutations (20 to 57% overall change). Acquisition of GMP recognition coincided with the loss of FAD (flavin-adenine dinucleotide) recognition in all isolates, despite the absence of a counter-selection to remove FAD-binding RNAs. To examine more precisely the proximity of these two activities within a defined sequence space, the complete set of all intermediate sequences between an FAD-binding aptamer and a GMP-binding aptamer were synthesized and assayed for activity. For this set of sequences, we observe a portion of a neutral network for FAD-binding function separated from GMP-binding function by a distance of three mutations. Furthermore, enzymatic probing of these aptamers revealed gross structural remodeling of the RNA coincident with the switch in ligand recognition. The capacity for neutral drift along an FAD-binding network in such close approach to RNAs with GMP-binding activity illustrates the degree of phenotypic buffering available to a set of closely related RNA sequences--defined as the set's functional tolerance for point mutations--and supports neutral evolutionary theory by demonstrating the facility with which a new phenotype becomes accessible as that buffering threshold is crossed.
Published In/Presented At
Held, D. M., Greathouse, S. T., Agrawal, A., & Burke, D. H. (2003). Evolutionary landscapes for the acquisition of new ligand recognition by RNA aptamers. Journal of molecular evolution, 57(3), 299–308. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-003-2481-y
Medicine and Health Sciences
Department of Surgery