A New Lens for RNA Localization: Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2018 Sep 8:72:255-271. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-090817-062814.


RNA localization mechanisms have been intensively studied and include localized protection of mRNA from degradation, diffusion-coupled local entrapment of mRNA, and directed transport of mRNAs along the cytoskeleton. While it is well understood how cells utilize these three mechanisms to organize mRNAs within the cytoplasm, a newly appreciated mechanism of RNA localization has emerged in recent years in which mRNAs phase-separate and form liquid-like droplets. mRNAs both contribute to condensation of proteins into liquid-like structures and are themselves regulated by being incorporated into membraneless organelles. This ability to condense into droplets is in many instances contributing to previously appreciated mRNA localization phenomena. Here we review how phase separation enables mRNAs to selectively and efficiently colocalize and be coregulated, allowing control of gene expression in time and space.

Keywords: RNA localization; cellular compartmentalization; phase separation; translation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism*
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / chemistry
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / metabolism*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / chemistry
  • Eukaryotic Cells / metabolism*
  • Prokaryotic Cells / chemistry
  • Prokaryotic Cells / metabolism*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism*


  • Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger