Argonaute (Ago) proteins mediate silencing of nucleic acid targets by small RNAs. In fission yeast, Ago1, Tas3 and Chp1 assemble into a RITS complex, which silences transcription near centromeres. Here we describe a repetitive motif within Tas3, termed the 'Argonaute hook', that is conserved from yeast to humans and binds Ago proteins through their PIWI domains in vitro and in vivo. Site-directed mutation of key residues in the motif disrupts Ago binding and heterochromatic silencing in vivo. Unexpectedly, a PIWI domain pocket that binds the 5' end of the short interfering RNA guide strand is required for direct binding of the Ago hook. Moreover, wild-type but not mutant Ago hook peptides derepress microRNA-mediated translational silencing of a target messenger RNA. Proteins containing the conserved Ago hook may thus be important regulatory components of effector complexes in RNA interference.
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