Phosphorylation of a Human Microprotein Promotes Dissociation of Biomolecular Condensates

J Am Chem Soc. 2021 Aug 18;143(32):12675-12687. doi: 10.1021/jacs.1c05386. Epub 2021 Aug 4.


Proteogenomic identification of translated small open reading frames in humans has revealed thousands of microproteins, or polypeptides of fewer than 100 amino acids, that were previously invisible to geneticists. Hundreds of microproteins have been shown to be essential for cell growth and proliferation, and many regulate macromolecular complexes. However, the vast majority of microproteins remain functionally uncharacterized, and many lack secondary structure and exhibit limited evolutionary conservation. One such intrinsically disordered microprotein is NBDY, a 68-amino acid component of membraneless organelles known as P-bodies. In this work, we show that NBDY can undergo liquid-liquid phase separation, a biophysical process thought to underlie the formation of membraneless organelles, in the presence of RNA in vitro. Phosphorylation of NBDY drives liquid phase remixing in vitro and macroscopic P-body dissociation in cells undergoing growth factor signaling and cell division. These results suggest that NBDY phosphorylation enables regulation of P-body dynamics during cell proliferation and, more broadly, that intrinsically disordered microproteins may contribute to liquid-liquid phase separation and remixing behavior to affect cellular processes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomolecular Condensates
  • Humans
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / chemical synthesis*
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / chemistry
  • Particle Size
  • Phosphorylation


  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins