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Trends Biochem Sci. 2001 Oct;26(10):597-604.

Macromolecular crowding: obvious but underappreciated.

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  • 1Dept of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK.


Biological macromolecules evolve and function within intracellular environments that are crowded with other macromolecules. Crowding results in surprisingly large quantitative effects on both the rates and the equilibria of interactions involving macromolecules, but such interactions are commonly studied outside the cell in uncrowded buffers. The addition of high concentrations of natural and synthetic macromolecules to such buffers enables crowding to be mimicked in vitro, and should be encouraged as a routine variable to study. The stimulation of protein aggregation by crowding might account for the existence of molecular chaperones that combat this effect. Positive results of crowding include enhancing the collapse of polypeptide chains into functional proteins, the assembly of oligomeric structures and the efficiency of action of some molecular chaperones and metabolic pathways.

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