Spatial patterning of P granules by RNA-induced phase separation of the intrinsically-disordered protein MEG-3

Elife. 2016 Dec 3:5:e21337. doi: 10.7554/eLife.21337.


RNA granules are non-membrane bound cellular compartments that contain RNA and RNA binding proteins. The molecular mechanisms that regulate the spatial distribution of RNA granules in cells are poorly understood. During polarization of the C. elegans zygote, germline RNA granules, called P granules, assemble preferentially in the posterior cytoplasm. We present evidence that P granule asymmetry depends on RNA-induced phase separation of the granule scaffold MEG-3. MEG-3 is an intrinsically disordered protein that binds and phase separates with RNA in vitro. In vivo, MEG-3 forms a posterior-rich concentration gradient that is anti-correlated with a gradient in the RNA-binding protein MEX-5. MEX-5 is necessary and sufficient to suppress MEG-3 granule formation in vivo, and suppresses RNA-induced MEG-3 phase separation in vitro. Our findings suggest that MEX-5 interferes with MEG-3's access to RNA, thus locally suppressing MEG-3 phase separation to drive P granule asymmetry. Regulated access to RNA, combined with RNA-induced phase separation of key scaffolding proteins, may be a general mechanism for controlling the formation of RNA granules in space and time.

Keywords: C. elegans; MEG-3; MEX-5; P granules; RNA granules; cell biology; developmental biology; germline; phase separation; stem cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA / metabolism*
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins
  • MEG-3 protein, C elegans
  • MEX-5 protein, C elegans
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • RNA