The brain-expressed ubiquilins, UBQLNs 1, 2 and 4, are highly homologous proteins that participate in multiple aspects of protein homeostasis and are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have established that UBQLN2 forms liquid-like condensates and accumulates in pathogenic aggregates, much like other proteins linked to neurodegenerative diseases. However, the relative condensate and aggregate formation of the three brain-expressed ubiquilins is unknown. Here we report that the three ubiquilins differ in aggregation propensity, revealed by in-vitro experiments, cellular models, and analysis of human brain tissue. UBQLN4 displays heightened aggregation propensity over the other ubiquilins and, like amyloids, UBQLN4 forms ThioflavinT-positive fibrils in vitro. Measuring fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) of puncta in cells, we report that all three ubiquilins undergo liquid–liquid phase transition. UBQLN2 and 4 exhibit slower recovery than UBQLN1, suggesting the condensates formed by these brain-expressed ubiquilins have different compositions and undergo distinct internal rearrangements. We conclude that while all brain-expressed ubiquilins exhibit self-association behavior manifesting as condensates, they follow distinct courses of phase-separation and aggregation. We suggest that this variability among ubiquilins along the continuum from liquid-like to solid informs both the normal ubiquitin-linked functions of ubiquilins and their accumulation and potential contribution to toxicity in neurodegenerative diseases.
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