Motif-pattern dependence of biomolecular phase separation driven by specific interactions

Benjamin G. Weiner, Andrew G.T. Pyo, Yigal Meir, Ned S. Wingreen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Eukaryotic cells partition a wide variety of important materials and processes into biomolecular condensates—phase-separated droplets that lack a membrane. In addition to nonspecific electrostatic or hydrophobic interactions, phase separation also depends on specific binding motifs that link together constituent molecules. Nevertheless, few rules have been established for how these ubiquitous specific, saturating, motif-motif interactions drive phase separation. By integrating Monte Carlo simulations of lattice-polymers with mean-field theory, we show that the sequence of heterotypic binding motifs strongly affects a polymer’s ability to phase separate, influencing both phase boundaries and condensate properties (e.g. viscosity and polymer diffusion). We find that sequences with large blocks of single motifs typically form more inter-polymer bonds, which promotes phase separation. Notably, the sequence of binding motifs influences phase separation primarily by determining the conformational entropy of self-bonding by single polymers. This contrasts with systems where the molecular architecture primarily affects the energy of the dense phase, providing a new entropy-based mechanism for the biological control of phase separation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1009748
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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