Connecting the dots: The effects of macromolecular crowding on cell physiology


The physicochemical properties of cellular environments with a high macromolecular content have been systematically characterized to explain differences observed in the diffusion coefficients, kinetics parameters, and thermodynamic properties of proteins inside and outside of cells. However, much less attention has been given to the effects of macromolecular crowding on cell physiology. Here, we review recent findings that shed some light on the role of crowding in various cellular processes, such as reduction of biochemical activities, structural reorganization of the cytoplasm, cytoplasm fluidity, and cellular dormancy. We conclude by presenting some unresolved problems that require the attention of biophysicists, biochemists, and cell physiologists. Although it is still underappreciated, macromolecular crowding plays a critical role in life as we know it.