Phase Separation and Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Disturbance in the Force

Dev Cell. 2020 Oct 12;55(1):45-68. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2020.09.014.


Protein aggregation is the main hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases. Many proteins found in pathological inclusions are known to undergo liquid-liquid phase separation, a reversible process of molecular self-assembly. Emerging evidence supports the hypothesis that aberrant phase separation behavior may serve as a trigger of protein aggregation in neurodegeneration, and efforts to understand and control the underlying mechanisms are underway. Here, we review similarities and differences among four main proteins, α-synuclein, FUS, tau, and TDP-43, which are found aggregated in different diseases and were independently shown to phase separate. We discuss future directions in the field that will help shed light on the molecular mechanisms of aggregation and neurodegeneration.

Keywords: FUS; RNA-binding proteins; TDP-43; Tau; biomolecular condensates; liquid-liquid phase separation; neurodegeneration; prion-like; protein aggregation; α-synuclein.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mechanical Phenomena
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Protein Aggregates / physiology*
  • Protein Domains / physiology
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Protein Aggregates
  • RNA-Binding Proteins