A Novel Lens for Cell Volume Regulation: Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2021 Apr 21;55(S1):135-160. doi: 10.33594/000000357.


Cells are constantly exposed to the risk of volume perturbation under physiological conditions. The increase or decrease in cell volume accompanies intracellular changes in cell membrane tension, ionic strength/concentration and macromolecular crowding. To avoid deleterious consequences caused by cell volume perturbation, cells have volume recovery systems that regulate osmotic water flow by transporting ions and organic osmolytes across the cell membrane. Thus far, a number of biomolecules have been reported to regulate cell volume. However, the question of how cells sense volume change and modulate volume regulatory systems is not fully understood. Recently, the existence and significance of phaseseparated biomolecular condensates have been revealed in numerous physiological events, including cell volume perturbation. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of cell volume-sensing mechanisms, introduce recent studies on biomolecular condensates induced by cell volume change and discuss how biomolecular condensates contribute to cell volume sensing and cell volume maintenance. In addition to previous studies of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology, a phase separation perspective will allow us to understand the complicated volume regulatory systems of cells.

Keywords: Cell volume sensing; Cell volume regulation; Osmotic stress response; Biomolecular condensates; Phase separation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Size*
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Osmotic Pressure / physiology