Structural evolution and functional diversification analyses of argonaute protein

J Cell Biochem. 2012 Aug;113(8):2576-85. doi: 10.1002/jcb.24133.


Argonaute (AGO) proteins are highly specialized small-RNA-binding modules and small RNAs are anchored to their specific binding pockets guiding AGO proteins to target mRNA molecules for silencing or destruction. The 135 full-length AGO protein sequences derived from 36 species covering prokaryote, archaea, and eukaryote are chosen for structural and functional analyses. The results show that bacteria and archaeal AGO proteins are clustered in the same clade and there exist multiple AGO proteins in most eukaryotic species, demonstrating that the increase of AGO gene copy number and horizontal gene transfer (HGT) have been the main evolutionary driving forces for adaptability and biodiversity. And the emergence of PAZ domain in AGO proteins is the unique evolutionary event. The analysis of middle domain (MID)-nucleotide contaction shows that either the position of sulfate I bond in Nc_QDE2 or the site of phosphate I bond in Hs_AGO2 represents the 5'-nucleotide binding site of miRNA. Also, H334, T335, and Y336 of Hs_AGO1 can form hydrogen bonds with 3'-overhanging ends of miRNAs and the same situation exists in Hs_AGO2, Hs_AGO3, Hs_AGO4, Dm_AGO1, and Ce_Alg1. Some PIWI domains containing conserved DDH motif have no slicer activity, and post-translational modifications may be associated with the endonucleolytic activities of AGOs. With the numbers of AGO genes increasing and fewer crystal structures available, the evolutionary and functional analyses of AGO proteins can help clarify the molecular mechanism of function diversification in response to environmental changes, and solve major issues including host defense mechanism against virus infection and molecular basis of disease.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Argonaute Proteins / chemistry*
  • Argonaute Proteins / genetics
  • Argonaute Proteins / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • RNA Interference


  • Argonaute Proteins