Amphiphilic proteins coassemble into multiphasic condensates and act as biomolecular surfactants. Academic Article uri icon


  • 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-phase-separating 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 invitro 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.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 21.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Kelley, F. M., Favetta, B., Regy, R. M., Mittal, J., & Schuster, B. S.

citation count

  • 6

complete list of authors

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

publication date

  • December 2021