Polyubiquitin ligand-induced phase transitions are optimized by spacing between ubiquitin units

Sarasi K.K. Galagedera, Thuy P. Dao, Suzanne E. Enos, Antara Chaudhuri, Jeremy D. Schmit, Carlos A. Castañeda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Biomolecular condensates form via multivalent interactions among key macromolecules and are regulated through ligand binding and/or posttranslational modifications. One such modification is ubiquitination, the covalent addition of ubiquitin (Ub) or polyubiquitin chains to target macromolecules. Specific interactions between polyubiquitin chains and partner proteins, including hHR23B, NEMO, and UBQLN2, regulate condensate assembly or disassembly. Here, we used a library of designed polyubiquitin hubs and UBQLN2 as model systems for determining the driving forces of ligand-mediated phase transitions. Perturbations to either the UBQLN2-binding surface of Ub or the spacing between Ub units reduce the ability of hubs to modulate UBQLN2 phase behavior. By developing an analytical model based on polyphasic linkage principles that accurately described the effects of different hubs on UBQLN2 phase separation, we determined that introduction of Ub to UBQLN2 condensates incurs a significant inclusion energetic penalty. This penalty antagonizes the ability of polyUb hubs to scaffold multiple UBQLN2 molecules and cooperatively amplify phase separation. The extent to which polyubiquitin hubs promote UBQLN2 phase separation is encoded in the spacings between Ub units. This spacing is modulated by chains of different linkages and designed chains of different architectures, thus illustrating how the ubiquitin code regulates functionality via the emergent properties of the condensate. The spacing in naturally occurring linear polyubiquitin chains is already optimized to promote phase separation with UBQLN2. We expect our findings to extend to other condensates, emphasizing the importance of ligand properties, including concentration, valency, affinity, and spacing between binding sites in studies and designs of condensates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2306638120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
StatePublished - 2023


  • biomolecular condensates
  • ligand-induced phase transition
  • multicomponent phase separation
  • polyphasic linkage
  • polyubiquitin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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