College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Physical Basis of Protein Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Title:            Physical Basis of Protein Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation
Time:           11:00 a.m.
Location:    Room 202 MRB
Presenter:   Huan-Xiang Zhou (Professor and LAS Endowed Chair in the Natural Sciences, Department of Chemistry and Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois)

Intracellular membraneless organelles, corresponding to the droplet phase upon liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) of mixtures of proteins and possibly RNA, mediate myriad cellular functions [1]. Cells use a variety of biochemical signals such as expression level and posttranslational modification to regulate droplet formation and dissolution. Our study focuses on elucidating the physical basis of phase behaviors associated with cellular functions of membraneless organelles, using four complementary approaches. First, we use colloids and polymers, respectively, as models for structured and disordered proteins, to investigate both the common basis for protein phase separation and the unique characteristics of structured and disordered proteins in LLPS [2]. Disordered proteins are characterized by both extensive intermolecular attraction and low excluded-volume entropy, contributing to ready observation of phase separation. Second, we use multi-component patchy particles to investigate the wide range of effects of regulatory components on the droplet formation of driver proteins [3]. Third, the theoretical predictions have motivated our experimental work to define archetypical classes of macromolecular regulators of LLPS [4]. Lastly, we have developed a powerful computational method called FMAP for determining liquid-liquid phase equilibria [5]. By using fast Fourier transform to efficiently evaluate protein-protein interactions, FMAP enables an atomistic representation of the protein molecules. Application to γ-crystalins reveals how minor variations in amino-acid sequence, similar to those from posttranslational modifications and disease-associated mutations, lead to drastic differences in critical temperature. These studies contribute to both qualitative and quantitative understanding on the phase behaviors of membraneless organelles and their regulation and dysregulation.

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