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Weak multivalent biomolecular interactions: a strength versus numbers tug of war with implications for phase partitioning.


In this short Perspective, we discuss how recent dynamic live-cell imaging experiments have challenged our understanding of mechanisms driving functional molecular interactions in vivo. While we have generally considered the formation of functional biomolecular complexes as resulting from the stable assembly of two or more partner molecules, here we entertain the possibility that function may actually be maintained while molecules are rapidly exchanged within a complex. We postulate that at high effective concentrations, even very weak interactions can lead to strong binding site occupancy and thereby mediate function in a highly dynamic fashion. This new perspective in our definition of what represents a functional complex in living cells and in vivo could significantly alter how we define the nature of molecular transactions critical for mediating regulation in the cellular context. These less conventional principles also allow a broadening of the mechanistic options we should explore when interpreting essential biological processes such as gene regulation.

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