skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


This content will become publicly available on February 6, 2025

Title: Self-Assembling Polypeptides in Complex Coacervation
Intracellular compartmentalization plays a pivotal role in cellular function, with membrane-bound organelles and membrane-less biomolecular 'condensates' playing key roles. These condensates, formed through liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS), enable selective compartmentalization without the barrier of a lipid bilayer, thereby facilitating rapid formation/dissolution in response to stimuli. Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) and/or proteins with intrinsically disordered regions (IDRs), which are often rich in charged and polar amino acid sequences, scaffold many condensates, often in conjunction with RNA. Comprehending the impact of IDP/IDR sequences on phase separation poses a challenge due to the extensive chemical diversity resulting from the myriad amino acids and post-translational modifications. To tackle this hurdle, one approach has been to investigate LLPS in simplified polypeptide systems, which offer a narrower scope within the chemical space for exploration. This strategy is supported by studies that have demonstrated how IDP function can largely be understood based on general chemical features, such as clusters or patterns of charged amino acids, rather than residue-level effects, and the ways in which these kinds of motifs give rise to an ensemble of conformations. Our lab has utilized complex coacervates assembled from oppositely-charged polypeptides as a simplified material analogue to the complexity of liquid-liquid phase separated biological condensates. Complex coacervation is an associative LLPS that occurs due to the electrostatic complexation of oppositely-charged macro-ions. This process is believed to be driven by the entropic gains resulting from the release of bound counterions and the reorganization of water upon complex formation. Apart from their direct applicability to IDPs, polypeptides also serve as excellent model polymers for investigating molecular interactions due to the wide range of available side-chain functionalities and the capacity to finely regulate their sequence, thus enabling precise control over interactions with guest molecules. Here, we discuss fundamental studies examining how charge patterning, hydrophobicity, chirality, and architecture affect the phase separation of polypeptide-based complex coacervates. These efforts have leveraged a combination of experimental and computational approaches that provide insight into the molecular level interactions. We also examine how these parameters affect the ability of complex coacervates to incorporate globular proteins and viruses. These efforts couple directly with our fundamental studies into coacervate formation, as such ‘guest’ molecules should not be considered as experiencing simple encapsulation and are instead active participants in the electrostatic assembly of coacervate materials. Interestingly, we observed trends in the incorporation of proteins and viruses into coacervates formed using different chain length polypeptides that are not well explained by simple electrostatic arguments and may be the result of more complex interactions between globular and polymeric species. Additionally, we describe experimental evidence supporting the potential for complex coacervates to improve the thermal stability of embedded biomolecules such as viral vaccines. Ultimately, peptide-based coacervates have the potential to help unravel the physics behind biological condensates while paving the way for innovative methods in compartmentalization, purification, and biomolecule stabilization. These advancements could have implications spanning from medicine to biocatalysis.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1945521
NSF-PAR ID:
10492251
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Accounts of Chemical Research
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Accounts of Chemical Research
Volume:
57
Issue:
3
ISSN:
0001-4842
Page Range / eLocation ID:
386 to 398
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    We present improvements to thehydropathyscale (HPS) coarse‐grained (CG) model for simulating sequence‐specific behavior of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs), including their liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS). The previous model based on an atomistic hydropathy scale by Kapcha and Rossky (KR scale) is not able to capture some well‐known LLPS trends such as reduced phase separation propensity upon mutations (R‐to‐K and Y‐to‐F). Here, we propose to use the Urry hydropathy scale instead, which was derived from the inverse temperature transitions in a model polypeptide with guest residues X. We introduce two free parameters to shift (Δ) and scale (µ) the overall interaction strengths for the new model (HPS‐Urry) and use the experimental radius of gyration for a diverse group of IDPs to find their optimal values. Interestingly, many possible (Δ,µ) combinations can be used for typical IDPs, but the phase behavior of a low‐complexity (LC) sequence FUS is only well described by one of these models, which highlights the need for a careful validation strategy based on multiple proteins. The CG HPS‐Urry model should enable accurate simulations of protein LLPS and provide a microscopically detailed view of molecular interactions.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Compartments are a fundamental feature of life, based variously on lipid membranes, protein shells, or biopolymer phase separation. Here, this combines self‐assembling bacterial microcompartment (BMC) shell proteins and liquid‐liquid phase separation (LLPS) to develop new forms of compartmentalization. It is found that BMC shell proteins assemble at the liquid‐liquid interfaces between either 1) the dextran‐rich droplets and PEG‐rich continuous phase of a poly(ethyleneglycol)(PEG)/dextran aqueous two‐phase system, or 2) the polypeptide‐rich coacervate droplets and continuous dilute phase of a polylysine/polyaspartate complex coacervate system. Interfacial protein assemblies in the coacervate system are sensitive to the ratio of cationic to anionic polypeptides, consistent with electrostatically‐driven assembly. In both systems, interfacial protein assembly competes with aggregation, with protein concentration and polycation availability impacting coating. These two LLPS systems are then combined to form a three‐phase system wherein coacervate droplets are contained within dextran‐rich phase droplets. Interfacial localization of BMC hexameric shell proteins is tunable in a three‐phase system by changing the polyelectrolyte charge ratio. The tens‐of‐micron scale BMC shell protein‐coated droplets introduced here can accommodate bioactive cargo such as enzymes or RNA and represent a new synthetic cell strategy for organizing biomimetic functionality.

     
    more » « less
  3. Coacervation is a common phenomenon in natural polymers and has been applied to synthetic materials systems for coatings, adhesives, and encapsulants. Single-component coacervates are formed when block polyampholytes exhibit self-coacervation, phase separating into a dense liquid coacervate phase rich in the polyampholyte coexisting with a dilute supernatant phase, a process implicated in the liquid–liquid phase separation of intrinsically disordered proteins. Using fully fluctuating field-theoretic simulations using complex Langevin sampling and complementary molecular-dynamics simulations, we develop molecular design principles to connect the sequenced charge pattern of a polyampholyte with its self-coacervation behavior in solution. In particular, the lengthscale of charged blocks and number of connections between oppositely charged blocks are shown to have a dramatic effect on the tendency to phase separate and on the accessible chain conformations. The field and particle-based simulation results are compared with analytical predictions from the random phase approximation (RPA) and postulated scaling relationships. The qualitative trends are mostly captured by the RPA, but the approximation fails catastrophically at low concentration.

     
    more » « less
  4. Phase separation of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) commonly underlies the formation of membraneless organelles, which compartmentalize molecules intracellularly in the absence of a lipid membrane. Identifying the protein sequence features responsible for IDP phase separation is critical for understanding physiological roles and pathological consequences of biomolecular condensation, as well as for harnessing phase separation for applications in bioinspired materials design. To expand our knowledge of sequence determinants of IDP phase separation, we characterized variants of the intrinsically disordered RGG domain from LAF-1, a model protein involved in phase separation and a key component of P granules. Based on a predictive coarse-grained IDP model, we identified a region of the RGG domain that has high contact probability and is highly conserved between species; deletion of this region significantly disrupts phase separation in vitro and in vivo. We determined the effects of charge patterning on phase behavior through sequence shuffling. We designed sequences with significantly increased phase separation propensity by shuffling the wild-type sequence, which contains well-mixed charged residues, to increase charge segregation. This result indicates the natural sequence is under negative selection to moderate this mode of interaction. We measured the contributions of tyrosine and arginine residues to phase separation experimentally through mutagenesis studies and computationally through direct interrogation of different modes of interaction using all-atom simulations. Finally, we show that despite these sequence perturbations, the RGG-derived condensates remain liquid-like. Together, these studies advance our fundamental understanding of key biophysical principles and sequence features important to phase separation.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Numerous biological systems contain vesicle‐like biomolecular compartments without membranes, which contribute to diverse functions including gene regulation, stress response, signaling, and skin barrier formation. Coacervation, as a form of liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS), is recognized as a representative precursor to the formation and assembly of membrane‐less vesicle‐like structures, although their formation mechanism remains unclear. In this study, a coacervation‐driven membrane‐less vesicle‐like structure is constructed using two proteins, GG1234 (an anionic intrinsically disordered protein) and bhBMP‐2 (a bioengineered human bone morphogenetic protein 2). GG1234 formed both simple coacervates by itself and complex coacervates with the relatively cationic bhBMP‐2 under acidic conditions. Upon addition of dissolved bhBMP‐2 to the simple coacervates of GG1234, a phase transition from spherical simple coacervates to vesicular condensates occurred via the interactions between GG1234 and bhBMP‐2 on the surface of the highly viscoelastic GG1234 simple coacervates. Furthermore, the shell structure in the outer region of the GG1234/bhBMP‐2 vesicular condensates exhibited gel‐like properties, leading to the formation of multiphasic vesicle‐like compartments. A potential mechanism is proposed for the formation of the membrane‐less GG1234/bhBMP‐2 vesicle‐like compartments. This study provides a dynamic process underlying the formation of biomolecular multiphasic condensates, thereby enhancing the understanding of these biomolecular structures.

     
    more » « less