skip to main content

Search for: All records

Creators/Authors contains: "McCarty, James"

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  1. 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
  2. Proteins make up much of the machinery of cells and perform many roles that are essential for life. Some important proteins – known as intrinsically disordered proteins – lack any stable three-dimensional structure. One such protein, called tau, is best known for its ability to form tangles in the brain, and a buildup of these tangles is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and many other dementias. Tau is also one of a number of proteins that can undergo a process called liquid-liquid phase separation: essentially, a solution of tau separates into a very dilute solution interspersed with droplets of a concentrated tau solution, similar to an oil-water mixture separating into a very watery solution with drops of oil. Understanding the conditions that lead to spontaneous liquid-liquid phase separation might give insight into how the tau tangles form. However, it was not known whether it is possible in principle for liquid-liquid phase separation of tau to occur in a living brain. Lin, McCarty et al. have now used an advanced computer simulation method together with experiments to map the conditions under which a solution containing tau undergoes liquid-liquid phase separation. Temperature as well as the concentrations of salt and the tau protein all influenced how easily tau droplets formed or dissolved, and the narrow range of conditions that encouraged droplet formation fell within the normal conditions found in the body, also known as “physiological conditions”. This suggested that tau droplets might form and dissolve easily in living systems, and possibly in the brain, depending on the precise physiological conditions. To explore this possibility further, tau protein was added to a dish containing living cells. As the map suggested, slightly adjusting temperature or protein concentrations caused tau droplets to form and dissolve, all while the cells remained alive. The map provided by this study may offer guides to researchers looking for liquid-liquid phase separation in the brain. If liquid-liquid phase separation of tau occurs in living brains, it may be important for determining whether and when damaging tau tangles emerge. For example, the high concentration of tau in droplets might speed up tangle formation. Ultimately, a better understanding of the conditions and mechanism for liquid-liquid phase separation of tau can help researchers understand the role of protein droplet formation in living systems. This may be a process that promotes, or possibly a regulatory mechanism that prevents, the formation of tau tangles associated with dementia. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
  4. Tau protein in vitro can undergo liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS); however, observations of this phase transition in living cells are limited. To investigate protein state transitions in living cells, we attached Cry2 to Tau and studied the contribution of each domain that drives the Tau cluster in living cells. Surprisingly, the proline-rich domain (PRD), not the microtubule binding domain (MTBD), drives LLPS and does so under the control of its phosphorylation state. Readily observable, PRD-derived cytoplasmic condensates underwent fusion and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching consistent with the PRD LLPS in vitro. Simulations demonstrated that the charge properties of the PRD predicted phase separation. Tau PRD formed heterotypic condensates with EB1, a regulator of plus-end microtubule dynamic instability. The specific domain properties of the MTBD and PRD serve distinct but mutually complementary roles that use LLPS in a cellular context to implement emergent functionalities that scale their relationship from binding α-beta tubulin heterodimers to the larger proportions of microtubules.

    more » « less