Engineering uranyl-chelating peptides from NikR for electrochemical peptide-based sensing applications

Channing C. Stellato, Rebecca Y. Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We have, for the first time, designed three uranyl-chelating peptides by modeling after the uranyl binding pocket found in a mutated Ni(II)-dependent transcriptional repressor (NikR). All three thiolated and methylene blue (MB)-modified peptides, NikR-5, NikR-11, and NikR-15, contain the five core amino acids responsible for target recognition, but the two longer peptides have either one or two additional glycine residues in between the five amino acids. These three peptide probes were then used in the fabrication of electrochemical peptide-based (E-PB) uranyl ion (U(VI)) sensors, with the goal of elucidating the effects of the added glycine residues and probe flexibility on target recognition. The sensing mechanism is similar to other “signal-off” E-PB sensors, in which binding of the target rigidifies the probe, resulting in a decrease in the redox signal from the tethered MB label. Although all three sensors responded to U(VI), the NikR-15 sensor's behavior was irreproducible and thus precluded from the rest of the study. The NikR-11 sensor showed the largest response to U(VI), whereas the NikR-5 sensor showed higher specificity for U(VI). The limit of detection was 50 nM for both sensors, which is well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level for uranium. Both sensors were further tested and proven functional in a 50% synthetic aquifer sample. Overall, the NikR-11 sensor, fabricated with the 11-amino acid probe, is deemed the optimal design. Incorporating glycine residues is a strategic way to lengthen the peptide slightly to improve target binding. This simple yet versatile approach to recreating binding pockets on electrode surfaces can potentially be employed in the design of other E-PB and surface-based metal ion sensors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113698
JournalJournal of Electroanalytical Chemistry
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Alternating current voltammetry
  • Electrochemical metal ion sensor
  • Methylene blue
  • Ni(II)-dependent transcriptional repressor
  • Peptide design
  • Self-assembled monolayer
  • Uranium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Electrochemistry


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