Subcellular restriction of gene expression is crucial to the functioning of a wide variety of cell types. The cellular machinery driving spatially restricted gene expression has been studied for many years, but recent advances have highlighted novel mechanisms by which cells can generate subcellular microenvironments with specialized gene expression profiles. Particularly intriguing are recent findings that phase separation plays a role in certain RNA localization pathways. The burgeoning field of phase separation has revolutionized how we view cellular compartmentalization, revealing that, in addition to membrane-bound organelles, phase-separated cytoplasmic microenvironments — termed biomolecular condensates — are compositionally and functionally distinct from the surrounding cytoplasm, without the need for a lipid membrane. The coupling of phase separation and RNA localization allows for precise subcellular targeting, robust translational repression and dynamic recruitment of accessory proteins. Despite the growing interest in the intersection between RNA localization and phase separation, it remains to be seen how exactly components of the localization machinery, particularly motor proteins, are able to associate with these biomolecular condensates. Further studies of the formation, function, and transport of biomolecular condensates promise to provide a new mechanistic understanding of how cells restrict gene expression at a subcellular level.

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