Published on Tue Jun 22 2021

RNA at the surface of phase-separated condensates impacts their size and number

Cochard, A., Garcia-Jove Navarro, M., Kashida, S., Kress, M., Weil, D., Gueroui, Z.

Membrane-less organelles, by localizing and regulating complex biochemical reactions, are ubiquitous functional subunits of intracellular organization. They include a variety of nuclear and cytoplasmic ribonucleoprotein (RNP) condensates.

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Abstract

Membrane-less organelles, by localizing and regulating complex biochemical reactions, are ubiquitous functional subunits of intracellular organization. They include a variety of nuclear and cytoplasmic ribonucleoprotein (RNP) condensates, such as nucleoli, P-bodies, germ granules and stress granules. While is it now recognized that specific RNA and protein families are critical for the biogenesis of RNP condensates, how these molecular constituents determine condensate size and morphology is unknown. To circumvent the biochemical complexity of endogenous RNP condensates, the use of programmable tools to reconstitute condensate formation with minimal constituents can be instrumental. Here we report a methodology to form RNA-containing condensates in living cells with controlled RNA and protein composition. Our bioengineered condensates are made of ArtiGranule scaffolds undergoing liquid-liquid phase separation in cells and programmed to specifically recruit a unique RNA species. We found that RNAs mainly localized on condensate surface, either as isolated RNA molecules or as a homogenous corona of RNA molecules around the condensate. This simplified system allowed us to demonstrate that the size of the condensates scales with RNA surface density, the higher the RNA density is, the smaller and more frequent the condensates are. Our observations suggest a mechanism based on physical constraints, provided by RNAs localized on condensate surface, that limit condensate growth and coalescence.