PerspectiveCell Biology

The RNA face of phase separation

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Science  25 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6391, pp. 859-860
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8028

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Phase separation or liquid unmixing—a phenomenon resembling the formation of oil droplets in vinegar—has emerged as a major driver of functional compartmentalization within cells, allowing the rapid and dynamic isolation of specific activities from the surrounding cellular environment, without the need of a membrane (1). A flurry of exciting recent studies demonstrated the importance of RNA binding proteins (RBPs) with low complexity regions (LCRs) in this process [for example, (2, 3)], yet the role of incorporated RNAs is less well understood. On pages 918 and 922 of this issue, Maharana et al. (4) and Langdon et al. (5) propose that cellular RNAs regulate the formation, subcellular localization, and identity of these granules, which has implications for stress responses and pathologic protein aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases.