Subcellular Localization of Seed-Expressed LEA_4 Proteins Reveals Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation for LEA9 and for LEA48 Homo- and LEA42-LEA48 Heterodimers

Biomolecules. 2021 Nov 25;11(12):1770. doi: 10.3390/biom11121770.


LEA proteins are involved in plant stress tolerance. In Arabidopsis, the LEA_4 Pfam group is the biggest group with the majority of its members being expressed in dry seeds. To assess subcellular localization in vivo, we investigated 11 seed-expressed LEA_4 proteins in embryos dissected from dry seeds expressing LEA_4 fusion proteins under its native promoters with the Venus fluorescent protein (proLEA_4::LEA_4:Venus). LEA_4 proteins were shown to be localized in the endoplasmic reticulum, nucleus, mitochondria, and plastids. LEA9, in addition to the nucleus, was also found in cytoplasmic condensates in dry seeds dependent on cellular hydration level. Most investigated LEA_4 proteins were detected in 4-d-old seedlings. In addition, we assessed bioinformatic tools for predicting subcellular localization and promoter motifs of 11 seed-expressed LEA_4 proteins. Ratiometric bimolecular fluorescence complementation assays showed that LEA7, LEA29, and LEA48 form homodimers while heterodimers were formed between LEA7-LEA29 and LEA42-LEA48 in tobacco leaves. Interestingly, LEA48 homodimers and LEA42-LEA48 heterodimers formed droplets structures with liquid-like behavior. These structures, along with LEA9 cytoplasmic condensates, may have been formed through liquid-liquid phase separation. These findings suggest possible important roles of LLPS for LEA protein functions.

Keywords: LEA_4 proteins; cytoplasmic condensates; heterodimer; seed-expressed; subcellular localization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Liquid-Liquid Extraction
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins
  • Plastids / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Multimerization


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Plant Proteins