Multivalent Molecules as Modulators of RNA Granule Size and Composition

Biophys J. 2017 Jul 25;113(2):235-245. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.01.031. Epub 2017 Feb 24.


RNA granules are ensembles of specific RNA and protein molecules that mediate localized translation in eukaryotic cells. The mechanisms for formation and selectivity of RNA granules are unknown. Here we present a model for assembly of one type of RNA granule based on experimentally measured binding interactions among three core multivalent molecular components necessary for such assembly: specific RNA molecules that contain a cis-acting sequence called the A2 response element (A2RE), hnRNP A2 proteins that bind specifically (with high affinity) to A2RE sequences or nonspecifically (with lower affinity) to other RNA sequences, and heptavalent protein cytoskeleton-associated protein 5 (CKAP5, an alternative name for TOG protein) that binds both hnRNP A2 molecules and RNA. Non-A2RE RNA molecules (RNA without the A2RE sequence) that may be recruited to the granules through nonspecific interactions are also considered in the model. Modeling multivalent molecular interactions in granules is challenging because of combinatorial complexity in the number of potential molecular complexes among these core components and dynamic changes in granule composition and structure in response to changes in local intracellular environment. We use a hybrid modeling approach (deterministic-stochastic-statistical) that is appropriate when the overall compositions of multimolecular ensembles are of greater importance than the specific interactions among individual molecular components. Modeling studies titrating the concentrations of various granule components and varying effective site pair affinities and RNA valency demonstrate that interactions between multivalent components (TOG and RNA) are modulated by a bivalent adaptor molecule (hnRNP A2). Formation and disruption of granules, as well as RNA selectivity in granule composition are regulated by distinct concentration regimes of A2. Our results suggest that granule assembly is tightly controlled by multivalent molecular interactions among RNA molecules, adaptor proteins, and scaffold proteins.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Binding Sites
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / metabolism*
  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein Group A-B / metabolism
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation*
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA / metabolism*
  • Stochastic Processes


  • Heterogeneous-Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein Group A-B
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • hnRNP A2
  • RNA