The toehold switch consists of a cis-repressing switch RNA hairpin and a trans-acting trigger RNA. The binding of the trigger RNA to an unpaired toehold sequence of the switch hairpin allows for a branch migration process, exposing the start codon and ribosome binding site for translation initiation. In this work, we demonstrate that responses of toehold switches can be modulated by introducing an inhibitory hairpin that shortens the length of the unpaired toehold region. First, we investigated the effect of the toehold region length on output gene expression and showed that the second trigger RNA, which binds to the inhibitory hairpin, is necessary for output gene activation when the hairpin-to-hairpin spacing is short. Second, the apparent Hill coefficient was found generally to increase with decreasing hairpin-to-hairpin spacing or increasing hairpin number. This work expands the utility of toehold switches by providing a new way to modulate their response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-605
Number of pages5
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019


  • AND gate
  • RNA regulator
  • hairpin structure
  • toehold switch
  • ultrasensitivity


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