Cooperative activation of actin-myosin interaction by tropomyosin (Tm) is central to regulation of contraction in muscle cells and cellular and intracellular movements in nonmuscle cells. The steric blocking model of muscle regulation proposed 40 y ago has been substantiated at both the kinetic and structural levels. Even with atomic resolution structures of the major players, how Tm binds and is designed for regulatory function has remained a mystery. Here we show that a set of periodically distributed evolutionarily conserved surface residues of Tm is required for cooperative regulation of actomyosin. Based on our results, we propose a model of Tm on a structure of actin-Tm-myosin in the "open" (on) state showing potential electrostatic interactions of the residues with both actin and myosin. The sites alternate with a second set of conserved surface residues that are important for actin binding in the inhibitory state in the absence of myosin. The transition from the closed to open states requires the sites identified here, even when troponin + Ca(2+) is present. The evolutionarily conserved residues are important for actomyosin regulation, a universal function of Tm that has a common structural basis and mechanism.