Phase separation of biomolecules in polyoxyethylene glycol nonionic detergents

Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 1994;29(4):275-313. doi: 10.3109/10409239409083483.


The advantage of aqueous two-phase systems based on polyoxyethylene detergents over other liquid-liquid two-phase systems lies in their capacity to fractionate membrane proteins simply by heating the solution over a biocompatible range of temperatures (20 to 37 degrees C). This permits the peripheral membrane proteins to be effectively separated from the integral membrane proteins, which remain in the detergent-rich phase due to the interaction of their hydrophobic domains with detergent micelles. Since the first reports of this special characteristic of polyoxyethylene glycol detergents in 1981, numerous reports have consolidated this procedure as a fundamental technique in membrane biochemistry and molecular biology. As examples of their use in these two fields, this review summarizes the studies carried out on the topology, diversity, and anomalous behavior of transmembrane proteins on the distribution of glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol-anchored membrane proteins, and on a mechanism to describe the pH-induced translocation of viruses, bacterial endotoxins, and soluble cytoplasmic proteins related to membrane fusion. In addition, the phase separation capacity of these polyoxyethylene glycol detergents has been used to develop quick fractionation methods with high recoveries, on both a micro- and macroscale, and to speed up or increase the efficiency of bioanalytical assays.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry, Physical
  • Detergents / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / isolation & purification*
  • Micelles
  • Models, Chemical
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Water


  • Detergents
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Micelles
  • Water
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Nonidet P-40