Amphiphilic proteins coassemble into multiphasic condensates and act as biomolecular surfactants

Fleurie M. Kelley, Bruna Favetta, Roshan Mammen Regy, Jeetain Mittal, Benjamin S. Schuster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Cells contain membraneless compartments that assemble due to liquid-liquid phase separation, including biomolecular condensates with complex morphologies. For instance, certain condensates are surrounded by a film of distinct composition, such as Ape1 condensates coated by a layer of Atg19, required for selective autophagy in yeast. Other condensates are multiphasic, with nested liquid phases of distinct compositions and functions, such as in the case of ribosome biogenesis in the nucleolus. The size and structure of such condensates must be regulated for proper biological function. We leveraged a bioinspired approach to discover how amphiphilic, surfactant-like proteins may contribute to the structure and size regulation of biomolecular condensates. We designed and examined families of amphiphilic proteins comprising one phase-separating domain and one non-phaseseparating domain. In particular, these proteins contain the soluble structured domain glutathione S-transferase (GST) or maltose binding protein (MBP), fused to the intrinsically disordered RGG domain from P granule protein LAF-1. When one amphiphilic protein is mixed in vitro with RGG-RGG, the proteins assemble into enveloped condensates, with RGG-RGG at the core and the amphiphilic protein forming the surface film layer. Importantly, we found that MBP-based amphiphiles are surfactants and influence droplet size, with increasing surfactant concentration resulting in smaller droplet radii. In contrast, GST-based amphiphiles at increased concentrations coassemble with RGG-RGG into multiphasic structures. We propose a mechanism for these experimental observations, supported by molecular simulations of a minimalist model.We speculate that surfactant proteins may play a significant role in regulating the structure and function of biomolecular condensates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2109967118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 21 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Intrinsically disordered proteins
  • Liquid
  • Liquid phase separation
  • Molecular simulations
  • Size regulation
  • Surfactants


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