Protein conformation and biomolecular condensates

Curr Res Struct Biol. 2022 Sep 14;4:285-307. doi: 10.1016/j.crstbi.2022.09.004. eCollection 2022.


Protein conformation and cell compartmentalization are fundamental concepts and subjects of vast scientific endeavors. In the last two decades, we have witnessed exciting advances that unveiled the conjunction of these concepts. An avalanche of studies highlighted the central role of biomolecular condensates in membraneless subcellular compartmentalization that permits the spatiotemporal organization and regulation of myriads of simultaneous biochemical reactions and macromolecular interactions. These studies have also shown that biomolecular condensation, driven by multivalent intermolecular interactions, is mediated by order-disorder transitions of protein conformation and by protein domain architecture. Conceptually, protein condensation is a distinct level in protein conformational landscape in which collective folding of large collections of molecules takes place. Biomolecular condensates arise by the physical process of phase separation and comprise a variety of bodies ranging from membraneless organelles to liquid condensates to solid-like conglomerates, spanning lengths from mesoscopic clusters (nanometers) to micrometer-sized objects. In this review, we summarize and discuss recent work on the assembly, composition, conformation, material properties, thermodynamics, regulation, and functions of these bodies. We also review the conceptual framework for future studies on the conformational dynamics of condensed proteins in the regulation of cellular processes.

Keywords: Intrinsically disordered proteins; Membraneless organelles; Mesoscopic clusters; Nanocondensates; Phase separation; Protein coacervates; Protein colloids; Protein condensates; Protein conformation; Protein folding.

Publication types

  • Review