On the stability and layered organization of protein-DNA condensates

Biophysical Journal(2022)

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Multi-component phase separation is emerging as a key mechanism for the formation of biological condensates that play essential roles in signal sensing and transcriptional regulation. The molecular factors that dictate these condensates’ stability and spatial organization are not fully understood, and it remains challenging to predict their microstructures. Using a near-atomistic, chemically accurate force field, we studied the phase behavior of chromatin regulators that are crucial for heterochromatin organization and their interactions with DNA. Our computed phase diagrams recapitulated previous experimental findings on different proteins. They revealed a strong dependence of condensate stability on the protein-DNA mixing ratio as a result of balancing protein-protein interactions and charge neutralization. Notably, a layered organization was observed in condensates formed by mixing HP1, histone H1, and DNA. This layered organization may be of biological relevance, as it enables cooperative DNA packaging between the two chromatin regulators: histone H1 softens the DNA to facilitate the compaction induced by HP1 droplets. Our study supports near-atomistic models as a valuable tool for characterizing the structure and stability of biological condensates.
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