Biophysics Journal Club

Sequence-dependent surface condensation of a pioneer transcription factor on DNA

Hoda Taeb, SFU Physics
Location: P8445.2

Wednesday, 15 June 2022 12:30PM PDT


Author abstract: Biomolecular condensates are dense assemblies of proteins that form distinct biochemical compartments without being surrounded by a membrane. Some, such as P granules and stress granules, behave as droplets and contain many millions of molecules. Others, such as transcriptional condensates that form on the surface of DNA, are small and contain thousands of molecules. The physics behind the formation of small condensates on DNA surfaces is still under discussion. Here we investigate the nature of transcription factor condensates using the pioneer transcription factor Krüppel-like factor 4 (Klf4). We show that Klf4 can phase separate on its own at high concentrations, but at low concentrations, Klf4 only forms condensates on DNA. Using optical tweezers, we demonstrate that these Klf4 condensates form on DNA as a type of surface condensation. This surface condensation involves a switch-like transition from a thin adsorbed layer to a thick condensed layer, which shows hallmarks of a prewetting transition. The localization of condensates on DNA correlates with sequence, suggesting that the condensate formation of Klf4 on DNA is a sequence-dependent form of surface condensation. Prewetting together with sequence specificity can explain the size and position control of surface condensates. We speculate that a prewetting transition of pioneer transcription factors on DNA underlies the formation and positioning of transcriptional condensates and provides robustness to transcriptional regulation.

by Morin et al.

Nature Physics 18, 271-276 (2022).