Quantifying viscosity and surface tension of multicomponent protein-nucleic acid condensates

Biophys J. 2021 Apr 6;120(7):1161-1169. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2021.01.005. Epub 2021 Jan 14.


Living cells organize their internal space into dynamic condensates through liquid-liquid phase separation of multivalent proteins in association with cellular nucleic acids. Here, we study how variations in nucleic acid (NA)-to-protein stoichiometry modulate the condensed phase organization and fluid dynamics in a model system of multicomponent heterotypic condensates. Employing a multiparametric approach comprised of video particle tracking microscopy and optical tweezer-induced droplet fusion, we show that the interfacial tension, but not viscosity, of protein-NA condensates is controlled by the NA/protein ratio across the two-phase regime. In parallel, we utilize fluorescence correlation spectroscopy to quantify protein and NA diffusion in the condensed phase. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy measurements reveal that the diffusion of the component protein and NA within the condensate core is governed by the viscosity, and hence, also remains insensitive to the changes in NA-to-protein stoichiometry. Collectively, our results provide insights into the regulation of multicomponent heterotypic liquid condensates, reflecting how the bulk mixture composition affects their core versus surface organization and dynamical properties.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion
  • Nucleic Acids*
  • Proteins
  • Surface Tension
  • Viscosity


  • Nucleic Acids
  • Proteins