Coarse-grained simulations of phase separation driven by DNA and its sensor protein cGAS

Zhaoqian Su, Kalyani Dhusia, Yinghao Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The enzyme cGAS functions as a sensor that recognizes the cytosolic DNA from foreign pathogen. The activation of the protein triggers the transcription of inflammatory genes, leading into the establishment of an antipathogen state. An interesting new discovery is that the detection of DNA by cGAS induced the formation of liquid-like droplets. However how cells regulate the formation of these droplets is still not fully understood. In order to unravel the molecular mechanism beneath the DNA-mediated phase separation of cGAS, we developed a polymer-based coarse-grained model which takes into accounts the basic structural organization in DNA and cGAS, as well as the binding properties between these biomolecules. This model was further integrated into a hybrid simulation algorithm. With this computational method, a multi-step kinetic process of aggregation between cGAS and DNA was observed. Moreover, we systematically tested the model under different concentrations and binding parameters. Our simulation results show that phase separation requires both cGAS dimerization and protein-DNA interactions, whereas polymers can be kinetically trapped in small aggregates under strong binding affinities. Additionally, we demonstrated that supramolecular assembly can be facilitated by increasing the number of functional modules in protein or DNA polymers, suggesting that multivalency and intrinsic disordered regions play positive roles in regulating phase separation. This is consistent to previous experimental evidences. Taken together, this is, to the best of our knowledge, the first computational model to study condensation of cGAS-DNA complexes. While the method can reach the timescale beyond the capability of atomic-level MD simulations, it still includes information about spatial arrangement of functional modules in biopolymers that is missing in the mean-field theory. Our work thereby adds a useful dimension to a suite of existing experimental and computational techniques to study the dynamics of phase separation in biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109001
JournalArchives of Biochemistry and Biophysics
StatePublished - Oct 15 2021


  • Cell signaling
  • Coarse-grained simulation
  • Phase separation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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