Macromolecular crowding and confinement: biochemical, biophysical, and potential physiological consequences

Annu Rev Biophys. 2008;37:375-97. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biophys.37.032807.125817.


Expected and observed effects of volume exclusion on the free energy of rigid and flexible macromolecules in crowded and confined systems, and consequent effects of crowding and confinement on macromolecular reaction rates and equilibria are summarized. Findings from relevant theoretical/simulation and experimental literature published from 2004 onward are reviewed. Additional complexity arising from the heterogeneity of local environments in biological media, and the presence of nonspecific interactions between macromolecules over and above steric repulsion, are discussed. Theoretical and experimental approaches to the characterization of crowding- and confinement-induced effects in systems approaching the complexity of living organisms are suggested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biochemistry / methods
  • Biophysics / methods
  • Computer Simulation
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Multiprotein Complexes* / chemistry
  • Multiprotein Complexes* / physiology
  • Multiprotein Complexes* / ultrastructure
  • Physiology / methods
  • Proteins* / chemistry
  • Proteins* / physiology
  • Proteins* / ultrastructure
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Proteins