Showing 1 - 8 of 8 results
Mechanical frustration of phase separation in the cell nucleus by chromatin.
Liquid-liquid phase separation is a fundamental mechanism underlying subcellular organization. Motivated by the striking observation that optogenetically-generated droplets in the nucleus display suppressed coarsening dynamics, we study the impact of chromatin mechanics on droplet phase separation. We combine theory and simulation to show that crosslinked chromatin can mechanically suppress droplets’ coalescence and ripening, as well as quantitatively control their number, size, and placement. Our results highlight the role of the subcellular mechanical environment on condensate regulation.
Nucleated transcriptional condensates amplify gene expression.
Membraneless organelles or condensates form through liquid-liquid phase separation1-4, which is thought to underlie gene transcription through condensation of the large-scale nucleolus5-7 or in smaller assemblies known as transcriptional condensates8-11. Transcriptional condensates have been hypothesized to phase separate at particular genomic loci and locally promote the biomolecular interactions underlying gene expression. However, there have been few quantitative biophysical tests of this model in living cells, and phase separation has not yet been directly linked with dynamic transcriptional outputs12,13. Here, we apply an optogenetic approach to show that FET-family transcriptional regulators exhibit a strong tendency to phase separate within living cells, a process that can drive localized RNA transcription. We find that TAF15 has a unique charge distribution among the FET family members that enhances its interactions with the C-terminal domain of RNA polymerase II. Nascent C-terminal domain clusters at primed genomic loci lower the energetic barrier for nucleation of TAF15 condensates, which in turn further recruit RNA polymerase II to drive transcriptional output. These results suggest that positive feedback between interacting transcriptional components drives localized phase separation to amplify gene expression.
Composition dependent phase separation underlies directional flux through the nucleolus.
Intracellular bodies such as nucleoli, Cajal bodies, and various signaling assemblies, represent membraneless organelles, or condensates, that form via liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS)1,2. Biomolecular interactions, particularly homotypic interactions mediated by self-associating intrinsically disordered protein regions (IDRs), are thought to underlie the thermodynamic driving forces for LLPS, forming condensates that can facilitate the assembly and processing of biochemically active complexes, such as ribosomal subunits within the nucleolus. Simplified model systems3–6 have led to the concept that a single fixed saturation concentration (Csat) is a defining feature of endogenous LLPS7–9, and has been suggested as a mechanism for intracellular concentration buffering2,7,8,10. However, the assumption of a fixed Csat remains largely untested within living cells, where the richly multicomponent nature of condensates could complicate this simple picture. Here we show that heterotypic multicomponent interactions dominate endogenous LLPS, and give rise to nucleoli and other condensates that do not exhibit a fixed Csat. As the concentration of individual components is varied, their partition coefficients change, in a manner that can be used to extract thermodynamic interaction energies, that we interpret within a framework we term polyphasic interaction thermodynamic analysis (PITA). We find that heterotypic interactions between protein and RNA components stabilize a variety of archetypal intracellular condensates, including the nucleolus, Cajal bodies, stress granules, and P bodies. These findings imply that the composition of condensates is finely tuned by the thermodynamics of the underlying biomolecular interaction network. In the context of RNA processing condensates such as the nucleolus, this stoichiometric self-tuning manifests in selective exclusion of fully-assembled RNP complexes, providing a thermodynamic basis for vectorial ribosomal RNA (rRNA) flux out of the nucleolus. The PITA methodology is conceptually straightforward and readily implemented, and it can be broadly utilized to extract thermodynamic parameters from microscopy images. These approaches pave the way for a deep understanding of the thermodynamics of multi-component intracellular phase behavior and its interplay with nonequilibrium activity characteristic of endogenous condensates.
Controlling the material properties and rRNA processing function of the nucleolus using light.
The nucleolus is a prominent nuclear condensate that plays a central role in ribosome biogenesis by facilitating the transcription and processing of nascent ribosomal RNA (rRNA). A number of studies have highlighted the active viscoelastic nature of the nucleolus, whose material properties and phase behavior are a consequence of underlying molecular interactions. However, the ways in which the material properties of the nucleolus impact its function in rRNA biogenesis are not understood. Here we utilize the Cry2olig optogenetic system to modulate the viscoelastic properties of the nucleolus. We show that above a threshold concentration of Cry2olig protein, the nucleolus can be gelled into a tightly linked, low mobility meshwork. Gelled nucleoli no longer coalesce and relax into spheres but nonetheless permit continued internal molecular mobility of small proteins. These changes in nucleolar material properties manifest in specific alterations in rRNA processing steps, including a buildup of larger rRNA precursors and a depletion of smaller rRNA precursors. We propose that the flux of processed rRNA may be actively tuned by the cell through modulating nucleolar material properties, which suggests the potential of materials-based approaches for therapeutic intervention in ribosomopathies.
Liquid Nuclear Condensates Mechanically Sense and Restructure the Genome.
Phase transitions involving biomolecular liquids are a
fundamental mechanism underlying intracellular organization.
In the cell nucleus, liquid-liquid phase
separation of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs)
is implicated in assembly of the nucleolus, as well
as transcriptional clusters, and other nuclear bodies.
However, it remains unclear whether and how physical
forces associated with nucleation, growth, and
wetting of liquid condensates can directly restructure
chromatin. Here, we use CasDrop, a novel
CRISPR-Cas9-based optogenetic technology, to
show that various IDPs phase separate into liquid
condensates that mechanically exclude chromatin
as they grow and preferentially form in low-density,
largely euchromatic regions. A minimal physical
model explains how this stiffness sensitivity arises
from lower mechanical energy associated with deforming
softer genomic regions. Targeted genomic
loci can nonetheless be mechanically pulled together
through surface tension-driven coalescence. Nuclear
condensates may thus function as mechanoactive
chromatin filters, physically pulling in targeted
genomic loci while pushing out non-targeted regions
of the neighboring genome.
Mapping Local and Global Liquid Phase Behavior in Living Cells Using Photo-Oligomerizable Seeds.
Liquid-liquid phase separation plays a key role in the
assembly of diverse intracellular structures. However,
the biophysical principles by which phase separation
can be precisely localized within subregions
of the cell are still largely unclear, particularly for
low-abundance proteins. Here, we introduce an oligomerizing
biomimetic system, ‘‘Corelets,’’ and utilize
its rapid and quantitative light-controlled
tunability to map full intracellular phase diagrams,
which dictate the concentrations at which phase
separation occurs and the transition mechanism, in
a protein sequence dependent manner. Surprisingly,
both experiments and simulations show that while
intracellular concentrations may be insufficient for
global phase separation, sequestering protein ligands
to slowly diffusing nucleation centers can
move the cell into a different region of the phase diagram,
resulting in localized phase separation. This
diffusive capture mechanism liberates the cell from
the constraints of global protein abundance and is
likely exploited to pattern condensates associated
with diverse biological processes.
Protein Phase Separation Provides Long-Term Memory of Transient Spatial Stimuli.
Protein/RNA clusters arise frequently in spatially regulated biological processes, from the asymmetric distribution of P granules and PAR proteins in developing embryos to localized receptor oligomers in migratory cells. This co-occurrence suggests that protein clusters might possess intrinsic properties that make them a useful substrate for spatial regulation. Here, we demonstrate that protein droplets show a robust form of spatial memory, maintaining the spatial pattern of an inhibitor of droplet formation long after it has been removed. Despite this persistence, droplets can be highly dynamic, continuously exchanging monomers with the diffuse phase. We investigate the principles of biophysical spatial memory in three contexts: a computational model of phase separation; a novel optogenetic system where light can drive rapid, localized dissociation of liquid-like protein droplets; and membrane-localized signal transduction from clusters of receptor tyrosine kinases. Our results suggest that the persistent polarization underlying many cellular and developmental processes could arise through a simple biophysical process, without any additional biochemical feedback loops.
Spatiotemporal Control of Intracellular Phase Transitions Using Light-Activated optoDroplets.
Phase transitions driven by intrinsically disordered protein regions (IDRs) have emerged as a ubiquitous mechanism for assembling liquid-like RNA/protein (RNP) bodies and other membrane-less organelles. However, a lack of tools to control intracellular phase transitions limits our ability to understand their role in cell physiology and disease. Here, we introduce an optogenetic platform that uses light to activate IDR-mediated phase transitions in living cells. We use this "optoDroplet" system to study condensed phases driven by the IDRs of various RNP body proteins, including FUS, DDX4, and HNRNPA1. Above a concentration threshold, these constructs undergo light-activated phase separation, forming spatiotemporally definable liquid optoDroplets. FUS optoDroplet assembly is fully reversible even after multiple activation cycles. However, cells driven deep within the phase boundary form solid-like gels that undergo aging into irreversible aggregates. This system can thus elucidate not only physiological phase transitions but also their link to pathological aggregates.