Macromolecular crowding: an important but neglected aspect of the intracellular environment

Curr Opin Struct Biol. 2001 Feb;11(1):114-9. doi: 10.1016/s0959-440x(00)00172-x.


Biological macromolecules have evolved over billions of years to function inside cells, so it is not surprising that researchers studying the properties of such molecules, either in extracts or in purified form, take care to control factors that reflect the intracellular environment, such as pH, ionic strength and composition, redox potential and the concentrations of relevant metabolites and effector molecules. There is one universal aspect of the cellular interior, however, that is largely neglected--the fact that it is highly crowded with macromolecules. It is proposed that the addition of crowding agents should become as routine as controlling pH and ionic strength if we are to meet the objective of studying biological molecules under more physiologically relevant conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chaperonins
  • Cytoplasm / ultrastructure*
  • Diffusion
  • Eukaryotic Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Structural
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Prokaryotic Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Folding
  • Thermodynamics


  • Chaperonins