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Spontaneous driving forces give rise to protein-RNA condensates with coexisting phases and complex material properties

By Steven Boeynaems, Alex S Holehouse, Venera Weinhardt, Denes Kovacs, Joris Van Lindt, Carolyn Larabell, Ludo Van Den Bosch, Rhiju Das, Peter Tompa, Rohit V. Pappu, Aaron Gitler

Posted 11 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/492793 (published DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1821038116)

Collective phase transitions, including phase separation and gelation of multivalent protein and RNA molecules appears to underlie the biogenesis of biomolecular condensates such as membraneless organelles. In vivo, these condensates encompass hundreds of distinct types of molecules that are often organized into multi-layered structures supporting the differential partitioning of molecules into distinct regions with distinct material properties. The interplay between driven (active) versus spontaneous (passive) processes that are required for enabling the formation of condensates with coexisting layers of distinct material properties remains unclear. Here, we investigate the role of spontaneous driving forces as determinants of protein-RNA condensates with complex morphologies and distinct material properties. Through the use of systematic in vitro experiments and simulations based on coarse-grained models we find that that the collective interactions among the simplest, biologically relevant proteins and archetypal RNA molecules are sufficient for driving the spontaneous emergence of multi-layered condensates with distinct material properties. Our results demonstrate that key properties of protein-RNA condensates such as their overall morphologies, internal dynamics, and the selective partitioning of substrates are governed specific amino acid chemistries as well as RNA sequence and secondary structure. Our findings yield a clear set of heuristics regarding homo- and heterotypic interactions that are likely to be relevant for understanding the interplay between active and passive processes that control the formation of functional biomolecular condensates.

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