Molecular crowding and RNA synergize to promote phase separation, microtubule interaction, and seeding of Tau condensates

EMBO J. 2022 Jun 1;41(11):e108882. doi: 10.15252/embj.2021108882. Epub 2022 Mar 17.


Biomolecular condensation of the neuronal microtubule-associated protein Tau (MAPT) can be induced by coacervation with polyanions like RNA, or by molecular crowding. Tau condensates have been linked to both functional microtubule binding and pathological aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases. We find that molecular crowding and coacervation with RNA, two conditions likely coexisting in the cytosol, synergize to enable Tau condensation at physiological buffer conditions and to produce condensates with a strong affinity to charged surfaces. During condensate-mediated microtubule polymerization, their synergy enhances bundling and spatial arrangement of microtubules. We further show that different Tau condensates efficiently induce pathological Tau aggregates in cells, including accumulations at the nuclear envelope that correlate with nucleocytoplasmic transport deficits. Fluorescent lifetime imaging reveals different molecular packing densities of Tau in cellular accumulations and a condensate-like density for nuclear-envelope Tau. These findings suggest that a complex interplay between interaction partners, post-translational modifications, and molecular crowding regulates the formation and function of Tau condensates. Conditions leading to prolonged existence of Tau condensates may induce the formation of seeding-competent Tau and lead to distinct cellular Tau accumulations.

Keywords: FLIM; MAPT; aggregation; liquid-liquid phase separation; nuclear envelope.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases* / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA* / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • tau Proteins
  • RNA