How do protein domains of low sequence complexity work?

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17 Scopus citations


This review covers research findings reported over the past decade concerning the ability of low complexity (LC) domains to self-associate in a manner leading to their phase separation from aqueous solution. We focus our message upon the reductionist use of two forms of phase separation as biochemical assays to study how LC domains might function in living cells. Cells and their varied compartments represent extreme examples of material condensates. Over the past half century, biochemists, structural biologists, and molecular biologists have resolved the mechanisms driving innumerable forms of macromolecular condensation. In contrast, we remain largely ignorant as to how 10%–20% of our proteins actually work to assist in cell organization. This enigmatic 10%–20% of the proteome corresponds to gibberish-like LC sequences. We contend that many of these LC sequences move in and out of a structurally ordered, self-associated state as a means of offering a combination of organizational specificity and dynamic pliability to living cells. Finally, we speculate that ancient proteins may have behaved similarly, helping to condense, organize, and protect RNA early during evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Cross-β polymers
  • Hydrogel
  • Low-complexity sequences
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Phase separation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology


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