Faculty & Research

Associated Faculty

Clifford P. Brangwynne

Associated Faculty, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Clifford Brangwynne

Phone (609) 258-4528
location Engineering Quad, A313
Phone Lab (609) 258-8222
Faculty Assistant
Mary beth friedfeld


Phone (609) 258-0582

Research Focus

We are interested in understanding the physical principles underlying self-assembly of biological materials, including the cytoskeleton, sub-cellular organelles, cells, and tissues. Our research combines the tools of soft matter physics and molecular cell biology to understand the way in which the properties of biological materials play a role in fundamental biological processes, in particular embryonic development. To address these questions we work with the worm C. elegans, as well as the frog X. Laevis. We aim to ultimately use the understanding gained in these model organisms to develop self-assembling biomaterials for medical applications.

Patterning in Developing Embryos

Tissue patterning in early development is facilitated in part by asymmetric cell divisions, where a cell divides into two daughter cells that may be different in size, contain different molecular components, and ultimately give rise to different tissues in the adult organism. In C. elegans asymmetric divisions establish germ cells that will go on to form the reproductive gonad in the adult organism. As with many organisms, C. elegans germ cells contain RNA and protein rich germ granules ("P-granules") that are thought to play a role in keeping the germ cells in an un-differentiated stem-cell like state. P-granules localize within the cell cytoplasm in a complex process that relies on the formation of intracellular morphogen gradients that control P-granule assembly. The biophysical nature of these gradients, and the mechanism by which they control P granule stability, are still poorly understood.

Physical Properties and Function of RNA/Protein Bodies

Unlike conventional sub-cellular compartments such as vesicles, cells contain many compartments that form in the absence of membranes. These typically consist of assemblies of RNA and proteins, and include many cytoplasmic bodies such as P-granules. There are also many similar bodies within the nucleus, including Cajal bodies and nucleoli. We are interested in how these bodies form, how they carry out their biological functions, and the role their biophysical properties play. Together with the powerful genetics possible in the worm C. elegans, we also work with the large eggs of the frog X. Laevis.

Architecture and Dynamics of the Cytoskeleton

The cytoskeleton is a dynamic network of biopolymer filaments that plays a central role in many fundamental biological processes, including cell migration, cell division, and intracellular transport. We are interested in collective properties of the cytoskeleton, and the way in which these collective properties can function to spatially organize the cytoplasm of developing cells.

Selected Publications

Elbaum-Garfinkle S, Brangwynne CP. (2015) Liquids, Fibers, and Gels: The many phases of Neurodegeneration. Dev Cell. 35(5):531-2. Pubmed

Feric M, Broedersz CP, Brangwynne CP. (2015) Soft viscoelastic properties of nuclear actin age oocytes due to gravitational creep. Sci Rep. 5:16607. Pubmed

Zhang H, Elbaum-Garfinkle S, ... Bridges AA, Brangwynne CP, Gladfelter AS. (2015) RNA controls polyQ protein phase transitions. Mol Cell. 60(2):220-30. Pubmed

Bosse JB, Hogue IB, ... Sodeik B, Brangwynne CP, Enquist LW. (2015) Remodeling nuclear architecture allows efficient transport of herpesvirus capsids by diffusion.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 112(42):E5725-33. Pubmed

Berry J, Weber SC, Vaidya N, Haataja M, Brangwynne CP. (2015) RNA transcription modulates phase transition-driven nuclear body assembly. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 112(38):E5237-45. Pubmed

Uppaluri S, Brangwynne CP. (2015) A size threshold governs Caenorhabditis elegans developmental progression. Proc Biol Sci.  282(1813):20151283. Pubmed

Zhu L, Brangwynne CP. (2015) Nuclear bodies: the emerging biophysics of nucleoplasmic phases. Curr Opin Cell Biol.  34: 23-30. Pubmed

Elbaum-Garfinkle S, Kim Y, ... Eckmann CR, Myong S, Brangwynne CP. (2015) The disordered P granule protein LAF-1 drives phase separation into droplets with tunable viscosity and dynamics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 112: 7189-94. Pubmed

Gilpin W, Uppaluri S, Brangwynne CP. (2015) Worms under pressure: Bulk mechanical properties of C. elegans are independent of the cuticle. Biophys J. 108:1887-98. Pubmed

Weber SC, Brangwynne CP. (2015) Inverse size scaling of the nucleolus by a concentration-dependent phase transition. Curr Biol. 25:641-6. Pubmed

Brangwynne CP. (2013) Phase transitions and size scaling of membrane-less organelles. J Cell Biol. 203: 875-81. Pubmed

Feric M, Brangwynne CP. (2013) A nuclear F-actin scaffold stabilizes ribonucleoprotein droplets against gravity in large cells. Nat Cell Biol. 15: 1253-59. Pubmed

Broedersz CP, Brangwynne CP. (2013) Nuclear mechanics: Lamin webs and pathological blebs. Nucleus. 4: 156-59. Pubmed

Brangwynne CP, Johnson TL. (2013) The micro and macro of RNA function. Mol Biol Cell. 24: 679. Pubmed

Weber SC, Brangwynne CP. (2012) Getting RNA and protein in phase. Cell. 149: 1188-91. Pubmed

Brangwynne CP, Eckmann CR, Courson DS,...Hyman AA. (2009) Germline P granules are liquid droplets that localize by controlled dissolution/condensation. Science. 324: 1729-32. Pubmed

Greenan G, Brangwynne CP, Jaensch S, Gharakhani J, Jülicher F, Hyman AA. (2010) Centrosome size sets mitotic spindle length in Caenorhabditis elegans embryos. Curr Biol. 20: 353-58. Pubmed

Brangwynne CP, Koenderink GH, MacKintosh FC, Weitz DA. (2008) Cytoplasmic diffusion: molecular motors mix it up. J Cell Biol. 183: 583-87. PubMed

Brangwynne CP, Koenderink GH, MacKintosh FC, Weitz DA. (2008) Nonequilibrium microtubule fluctuations in a model cytoskeleton. Phys Rev Lett. 100: 118104. PubMed

Brangwynne CP, MacKintosh FC, Weitz DA. (2007) Force fluctuations and polymerization dynamics of intracellular microtubules. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 104: 16128-33. Pubmed

Brangwynne CP, Koenderink GH, Barry E, Dogic Z, MacKintosh FC, Weitz DA. (2007) Bending dynamics of fluctuating biopolymers probed by automated high-resolution filament tracking. Biophys J. 93: 346-59. Pubmed

Brangwynne CP, MacKintosh FC, Kumar S,...Weitz DA. (2006) Microtubules can bear enhanced compressive loads in living cells because of lateral reinforcement. J Cell Biol. 173: 733-41. Pubmed

Huang S, Brangwynne CP, Parker KK, Ingber DE. (2005) Symmetry-breaking in mammalian cell cohort migration during tissue pattern formation: Role of random-walk persistence. Cell Motil Cytoskeleton. 61: 201-13. Pubmed


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