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Tug of War between Condensate Phases in a Minimal Macromolecular System

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posted on 04.05.2020, 15:12 authored by Archishman Ghosh, Xiaojia Zhang, Huan-Xiang Zhou
Membraneless organelles, comprising dozens to hundreds of macromolecular components, form heterogeneous phases in space and evolve over time in material properties. Here, using four macromolecules, we demonstrate a range of phase behaviors associated with membraneless organelles and uncover the underlying physicochemical rules. The macromolecules are SH35 (S) and PRM5 (P), two pentameric, oppositely charged protein constructs; heparin (H), an anionic polymer; and lysozyme (L), a cationic single-domain protein. The S:P, S:L, and P:H binaries form droplets, but the H:L binary forms network-like precipitates, therefore setting up a tug of war between different condensate phases within the S:P:H:L quaternary. The H:L exception can partly be attributed to the compactness of L, as supported by ThT binding data. Increasing amounts of P alone or both S and P, but not S alone, can dissolve H:L precipitates into droplets. These differential effects can be explained by the order of the strengths of pairwise attraction: H:L > P:H > S:P > S:L, deduced from the shapes of ternary phase boundaries. When S and P are at subdissolution concentrations, S:P:H:L precipitates change over time to become droplet-like in appearance, although not completely fluidic according to fluorescence recovery after photobleaching. In fact, confocal microscopy reveals separated S:L-rich and P:H-rich foci inside the droplet-like condensates. Therefore, complex phase behaviors of membraneless organelles, including rescue of aberrant phase transitions, demixing of condensates, and time evolution of material properties, can all be reconstituted and understood via a minimal macromolecular system.

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