Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation in Disease

Annu Rev Genet. 2019 Dec 3;53:171-194. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-112618-043527. Epub 2019 Aug 20.


We have made rapid progress in recent years in identifying the genetic causes of many human diseases. However, despite this recent progress, our mechanistic understanding of these diseases is often incomplete. This is a problem because it limits our ability to develop effective disease treatments. To overcome this limitation, we need new concepts to describe and comprehend the complex mechanisms underlying human diseases. Condensate formation by phase separation emerges as a new principle to explain the organization of living cells. In this review, we present emerging evidence that aberrant forms of condensates are associated with many human diseases, including cancer, neurodegeneration, and infectious diseases. We examine disease mechanisms driven by aberrant condensates, and we point out opportunities for therapeutic interventions. We conclude that phase separation provides a useful new framework to understand and fight some of the most severe human diseases.

Keywords: biomolecular condensate; cancer; infectious disease; membraneless organelle; neurodegeneration; phase separation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Infections / pathology
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology*
  • Organelles / chemistry*
  • Organelles / metabolism
  • Organelles / pathology
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Solubility


  • Proteins