Phosphorylation-mediated RNA/peptide complex coacervation as a model for intracellular liquid organelles

William M. Aumiller, Christine D. Keating

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

363 Scopus citations


Biological cells are highly organized, with numerous subcellular compartments. Phosphorylation has been hypothesized as a means to control the assembly/disassembly of liquid-like RNA- and protein-rich intracellular bodies, or liquid organelles, that lack delimiting membranes. Here, we demonstrate that charge-mediated phase separation, or complex coacervation, of RNAs with cationic peptides can generate simple model liquid organelles capable of reversibly compartmentalizing biomolecules. Formation and dissolution of these liquid bodies was controlled by changes in peptide phosphorylation state using a kinase/phosphatase enzyme pair. The droplet-generating phase transition responded to modification of even a single serine residue. Electrostatic interactions between the short cationic peptides and the much longer polyanionic RNAs drove phase separation. Coacervates were also formed on silica beads, a primitive model for localization at specific intracellular sites. This work supports phosphoregulation of complex coacervation as a viable mechanism for dynamic intracellular compartmentalization in membraneless organelles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-137
Number of pages9
JournalNature Chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Phosphorylation-mediated RNA/peptide complex coacervation as a model for intracellular liquid organelles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this