RNA aptamers as genetic control devices: the potential of riboswitches as synthetic elements for regulating gene expression.

Berens C, Groher F, Suess B
Biotechnology journal 2015; 1022015Feb: 246-57


RNA utilizes many different mechanisms to control gene expression. Among the regulatory elements that respond to external stimuli, riboswitches are a prominent and elegant example. They consist solely of RNA and couple binding of a small molecule ligand to the so-called "aptamer domain" with a conformational change in the downstream "expression platform" which then determines system output. The modular organization of riboswitches and the relative ease with which ligand-binding RNA aptamers can be selected in vitro against almost any molecule have led to the rapid and widespread adoption of engineered riboswitches as artificial genetic control devices in biotechnology and synthetic biology over the past decade. This review highlights proof-of-principle applications to demonstrate the versatility and robustness of engineered riboswitches in regulating gene expression in pro- and eukaryotes. It then focuses on strategies and parameters to identify aptamers that can be integrated into synthetic riboswitches that are functional in vivo, before finishing with a reflection on how to improve the regulatory properties of engineered riboswitches, so that we can not only further expand riboswitch applicability, but also finally fully exploit their potential as control elements in regulating gene expression.

Affiliation: Institute of Molecular Pathogenesis, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, Jena, Germany.

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