The molecular language of membraneless organelles

J Biol Chem. 2019 May 3;294(18):7115-7127. doi: 10.1074/jbc.TM118.001192. Epub 2018 Jul 25.


Eukaryotic cells organize their intracellular components into organelles that can be membrane-bound or membraneless. A large number of membraneless organelles, including nucleoli, Cajal bodies, P-bodies, and stress granules, exist as liquid droplets within the cell and arise from the condensation of cellular material in a process termed liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS). Beyond a mere organizational tool, concentrating cellular components into membraneless organelles tunes biochemical reactions and improves cellular fitness during stress. In this review, we provide an overview of the molecular underpinnings of the formation and regulation of these membraneless organelles. This molecular understanding explains emergent properties of these membraneless organelles and shines new light on neurodegenerative diseases, which may originate from disturbances in LLPS and membraneless organelles.

Keywords: Cajal body; RNA binding protein; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (Lou Gehrig disease); chaperone; disaggregase; liquid–liquid phase separation; nucleolus; organelle; stress granule; subcellular organelle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Physiological Phenomena
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Organelles / metabolism*