RNA-targeting small molecule therapeutics an emerging field hindered by an incomplete understanding of the basic principles governing RNA-ligand interactions. One way to advance our knowledge in this area is to study model systems where these interactions are better understood, such as riboswitches. Riboswitches bind a wide array of small molecules with high affinity and selectivity, providing a wealth of information on how RNA recognizes ligands through diverse structures. The cobalamin-sensing riboswitch is a particularly useful model system as similar sequences show highly specialized binding preferences for different biological forms of cobalamin. This riboswitch is also widely dispersed across bacteria and therefore holds strong potential as an antibiotic target. Many synthetic cobalamin forms have been developed for various purposes including therapeutics, but their interaction with cobalamin riboswitches is yet to be explored. In this study, we characterize the interactions of eleven cobalamin derivatives with three representative cobalamin riboswitches using
in vitrobinding experiments (both chemical footprinting and a fluorescence-based assay) and a cell-based reporter assay. The derivatives show productive interactions with two of the three riboswitches, demonstrating simultaneously plasticity and selectivity within these RNAs. The observed plasticity is partially achieved through a novel structural rearrangement within the ligand binding pocket, providing insight into how similar RNA structures can be targeted in the future. As the derivatives also show in vivofunctionality, they serve as several potential lead compounds for further drug development.