Chromatin network retards nucleoli coalescence

YF Qi and B Zhang, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 12, 6824 (2021).

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27123-9

Nuclear bodies are membraneless condensates that may form via liquid- liquid phase separation. The viscoelastic chromatin network could impact their stability and may hold the key for understanding experimental observations that defy predictions of classical theories. However, quantitative studies on the role of the chromatin network in phase separation have remained challenging. Using a diploid human genome model parameterized with chromosome conformation capture (Hi-C) data, we study the thermodynamics and kinetics of nucleoli formation. Dynamical simulations predict the formation of multiple droplets for nucleolar particles that experience specific interactions with nucleolus- associated domains (NADs). Coarsening dynamics, surface tension, and coalescence kinetics of the simulated droplets are all in quantitative agreement with experimental measurements for nucleoli. Free energy calculations further support that a two-droplet state, often observed for nucleoli in somatic cells, is metastable and separated from the single-droplet state with an entropic barrier. Our study suggests that nucleoli-chromatin interactions facilitate droplets' nucleation but hinder their coarsening due to the coupled motion between droplets and the chromatin network: as droplets coalesce, the chromatin network becomes increasingly constrained. Therefore, the chromatin network supports a nucleation and arrest mechanism to stabilize the multi- droplet state for nucleoli and possibly for other nuclear bodies. Nuclear bodies are membraneless condensates that may form via liquid- liquid phase separation; however, they defy theoretical predictions where the equilibrium state should consist of a single droplet. Here the authors use a diploid human genome model parameterized with Hi-C data to simulate nucleoli formation. Their model suggests the chromatin network allows for existence of multiple droplets.

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