Energy landscapes and heat capacity signatures for peptides correlate with phase separation propensity

Nicy, Rosana Collepardo-Guevara, Jerelle A. Joseph, David J. Wales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phase separation plays an important role in the formation of membraneless compartments within the cell and intrinsically disordered proteins with low-complexity sequences can drive this compartmentalisation. Various intermolecular forces, such as aromatic-aromatic and cation-aromatic interactions, promote phase separation. However, little is known about how the ability of proteins to phase separate under physiological conditions is encoded in their energy landscapes and this is the focus of the present investigation. Our results provide a first glimpse into how the energy landscapes of minimal peptides that contain - and cation- interactions differ from the peptides that lack amino acids with such interactions. The peaks in the heat capacity as a function of temperature report on alternative low-lying conformations that differ significantly in terms of their enthalpic and entropic contributions. The analysis and subsequent quantification of frustration of the energy landscape suggest that the interactions that promote phase separation lead to features (peaks or inflection points) at low temperatures in. More features may occur for peptides containing residues with better phase separation propensity and the energy landscape is more frustrated for such peptides. Overall, this work links the features in the underlying single-molecule potential energy landscapes to their collective phase separation behaviour and identifies quantities (and frustration metric) that can be utilised in soft material design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere7
JournalQRB Discovery
StatePublished - Sep 5 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics


  • discrete path sampling
  • energy landscapes
  • global optimisation
  • liquid-liquid phase separation


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