The nucleolus is a membrane-less organelle formed through liquid-liquid phase separation of its components from the surrounding nucleoplasm. Here, we show that nucleophosmin (NPM1) integrates within the nucleolus via a multi-modal mechanism involving multivalent interactions with proteins containing arginine-rich linear motifs (R-motifs) and ribosomal RNA (rRNA). Importantly, these R-motifs are found in canonical nucleolar localization signals. Based on a novel combination of biophysical approaches, we propose a model for the molecular organization within liquid-like droplets formed by the N-terminal domain of NPM1 and R-motif peptides, thus providing insights into the structural organization of the nucleolus. We identify multivalency of acidic tracts and folded nucleic acid binding domains, mediated by N-terminal domain oligomerization, as structural features required for phase separation of NPM1 with other nucleolar components in vitro and for localization within mammalian nucleoli. We propose that one mechanism of nucleolar localization involves phase separation of proteins within the nucleolus.
Keywords: NPM1/B23/nucleophosmin; biophysics; human; intrinsically disordered proteins; nucleolar localization; nucleolus; phase separation; single molecule fluorescence; structural biology.