Excluded-volume effects in living cells

David Gnutt, Mimi Gao, Oliver Brylski, Matthias Heyden, Simon Ebbinghaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Biomolecules evolve and function in densely crowded and highly heterogeneous cellular environments. Such conditions are often mimicked in the test tube by the addition of artificial macromolecular crowding agents. Still, it is unclear if such cosolutes indeed reflect the physicochemical properties of the cellular environment as the in-cell crowding effect has not yet been quantified.We have developed a macromolecular crowding sensor based on a FRET-labeled polymer to probe the macromolecular crowding effect inside single living cells. Surprisingly, we find that excluded-volume effects, although observed in the presence of artificial crowding agents, do not lead to a compression of the sensor in the cell. The average conformation of the sensor is similar to that in aqueous buffer solution and cell lysate. However, the in-cell crowding effect is distributed heterogeneously and changes significantly upon cell stress.We present a tool to systematically study the in-cell crowding effect as a modulator of biomolecular reactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2548-2551
Number of pages4
JournalAngewandte Chemie - International Edition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 16 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Biophysics
  • Biosensors
  • Excluded-volume effect
  • FRET
  • Macromolecular crowding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Chemistry(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Excluded-volume effects in living cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this