Liquid–liquid phase separation of proteins underpins the formation of membraneless compartments in living cells. Elucidating the molecular driving forces underlying protein phase transitions is therefore a key objective for understanding biological function and malfunction. Here we show that cellular proteins, which form condensates at low salt concentrations, including FUS, TDP-43, Brd4, Sox2, and Annexin A11, can reenter a phase-separated regime at high salt concentrations. By bringing together experiments and simulations, we demonstrate that this reentrant phase transition in the high-salt regime is driven by hydrophobic and non-ionic interactions, and is mechanistically distinct from the low-salt regime, where condensates are additionally stabilized by electrostatic forces. Our work thus sheds light on the cooperation of hydrophobic and non-ionic interactions as general driving forces in the condensation process, with important implications for aberrant function, druggability, and material properties of biomolecular condensates.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)