Thermodynamics and kinetics of phase separation of protein-RNA mixtures by a minimal model

Jerelle A. Joseph, Jorge R. Espinosa, Ignacio Sanchez-Burgos, Adiran Garaizar, Daan Frenkel, Rosana Collepardo-Guevara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Intracellular liquid-liquid phase separation enables the formation of biomolecular condensates, such as ribonucleoprotein granules, which play a crucial role in the spatiotemporal organization of biomolecules (e.g., proteins and RNAs). Here, we introduce a patchy-particle polymer model to investigate liquid-liquid phase separation of protein-RNA mixtures. We demonstrate that at low to moderate concentrations, RNA enhances the stability of RNA-binding protein condensates because it increases the molecular connectivity of the condensed-liquid phase. Importantly, we find that RNA can also accelerate the nucleation stage of phase separation. Additionally, we assess how the capacity of RNA to increase the stability of condensates is modulated by the relative protein-protein/protein-RNA binding strengths. We find that phase separation and multiphase organization of multicomponent condensates is favored when the RNA binds with higher affinity to the lower-valency proteins in the mixture than to the cognate higher-valency proteins. Collectively, our results shed light on the roles of RNA in ribonucleoprotein granule formation and the internal structuring of stress granules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1219-1230
Number of pages12
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 6 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics


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