Who's In and Who's Out-Compositional Control of Biomolecular Condensates

J Mol Biol. 2018 Nov 2;430(23):4666-4684. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2018.08.003. Epub 2018 Aug 9.


Biomolecular condensates are two- and three-dimensional compartments in eukaryotic cells that concentrate specific collections of molecules without an encapsulating membrane. Many condensates behave as dynamic liquids and appear to form through liquid-liquid phase separation driven by weak, multivalent interactions between macromolecules. In this review, we discuss current models and data regarding the control of condensate composition, and we describe our current understanding of the composition of representative condensates including PML nuclear bodies, P-bodies, stress granules, the nucleolus, and two-dimensional membrane localized LAT and nephrin clusters. Specific interactions, such as interactions between modular binding domains, weaker interactions between intrinsically disorder regions and nucleic acid base pairing, and nonspecific interactions, such as electrostatic interactions and hydrophobic interactions, influence condensate composition. Understanding how specific condensate composition is determined is essential to understanding condensates as biochemical entities and ultimately discerning their cellular and organismic functions.

Keywords: LAT cluster; PML nuclear body; biomolecular condensate; composition; phase separation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleolus / metabolism
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Macromolecular Substances / chemistry*
  • Macromolecular Substances / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Nucleic Acids / chemistry*
  • Nucleic Acids / metabolism*
  • Organelles / chemistry
  • Organelles / metabolism
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Protein / chemistry
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Protein / metabolism


  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Protein
  • nephrin