Human Norovirus Aptamer Exhibits High Degree of Target Conformation-Dependent Binding Similar to That of Receptors and Discriminates Particle Functionality.

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Although two in vitro cultivation methods have been reported, discrimination of infectious human norovirus particles for study of viral inactivation is still a challenge, as both rely on reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR. Histo-blood group antigen (HBGA) binding assays serve as a proxy for estimation of infectious particles; however, they are costly and difficult to purify/modify. Some evidence suggests that certain nucleic acid aptamers only bind intact target proteins, thus displaying a high degree of conformation-dependent binding. The objective of this proof-of-concept study was to characterize the degree of conformation-dependent binding a human norovirus aptamer, M6-2, displayed with the capsid of the norovirus GII.4 Sydney (SYV) strain as a model. SYV capsids were exposed to heat, and aptamer, receptor (HBGA), and antibody binding was assessed. M6-2 and the receptor displayed similarly little target sequence-dependent binding (2.0% ± 1.3% and 0.5% ± 1.2% signal, respectively) compared to that of NS14 (26.4% ± 3.9%). The decay rates calculated with M6-2 and the receptor were also not statistically significantly different (P > 0.05), and dynamic light scattering and electron microscopy confirmed these observations. Ligand docking simulations revealed multiple distinct contacts of M6-2 in the N-terminal P1 and P2 domains of the viral capsid, with some residues close to receptor binding residues. These data suggest that single-stranded DNA aptamers like M6-2 display a high degree of target conformation-dependent binding. It is the first time nucleic acid aptamers have had this characteristic utilized and investigated to discern the infectivity status of viral particles, and the data suggest that other aptamers may show promise as valuable ligands in the study of other fastidious microorganisms. IMPORTANCE Human noroviruses impose a considerable health burden globally. However, study of their inactivation is still challenging with currently reported cell culture models, as discrimination of infectious viral particles is still difficult. Traditionally, the ability of particles to bind putative carbohydrate receptors is conducted as a proxy for infectivity, but these receptors are inconsistent, expensive, and hard to purify/modify. We report a hitherto unexplored property of a different type of ligand, a nucleic acid aptamer, to mimic receptor binding behavior and assess capsid functionality for a selected strain of norovirus. These emerging ligands are cheaper, more stable, and easily synthesized/modified. The previously unutilized characteristic reported here demonstrates the fundamental potential of aptamers to serve as valuable, accessible tools for any microorganism that is difficult to cultivate/study. Therefore, this novel concept suggests a new use for aptamers that is of great value to the microbiological community-specifically that involving fastidious microbes.





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Moore, Matthew D, Benjamin G Bobay, Brittany Mertens and Lee-Ann Jaykus (2016). Human Norovirus Aptamer Exhibits High Degree of Target Conformation-Dependent Binding Similar to That of Receptors and Discriminates Particle Functionality. mSphere, 1(6). pp. e00298–e00216. 10.1128/msphere.00298-16 Retrieved from

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Benjamin Bobay

Assistant Professor in Radiology

I am the Assistant Director of the Duke University NMR Center and an Assistant Professor in the Duke Radiology Department. I was originally trained as a structural biochemist with an emphasis on utilizing NMR and continue to use this technique daily helping collaborators characterize protein structures and small molecules through a diverse set of NMR experiments. Through the structural characterization of various proteins, from both planta and eukaryotes, I have developed a robust protocol of utilizing computational biology for describing binding events, mutations, post-translations modifications (PTMs), and/or general behavior within in silico solution scenarios. I have utilized these techniques in collaborations ranging from plant pathologists at the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences department at the University of Amsterdam to biomedical engineers at North Carolina State University to professors in the Pediatrics department at Duke University. These studies have centered around the structural and functional consequences of PTMs (such as phosphorylation), mutation events, truncation of multi-domain proteins, dimer pulling experiments, to screening of large databases of ligands for potential binding events. Through this combination of NMR and computational biology I have amassed 50 peer-reviewed published articles and countless roles on scientific projects, as well as the development of several tutorials concerning the creation of ligand databases and high-throughput screening of large databases utilizing several different molecular dynamic and computational docking programs.

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