Argonautes are the central protein component in small RNA silencing pathways. Of the four human Argonautes (hAgo1-hAgo4) only hAgo2 is an active slicer. We determined the structure of hAgo1 bound to endogenous copurified RNAs to 1.75 Å resolution and hAgo1 loaded with let-7 microRNA to 2.1 Å. Both structures are strikingly similar to the structures of hAgo2. A conserved catalytic tetrad within the PIWI domain of hAgo2 is required for its slicing activity. Completion of the tetrad, combined with a mutation on a loop adjacent to the active site of hAgo1, results in slicer activity that is substantially enhanced by swapping in the N domain of hAgo2. hAgo3, with an intact tetrad, becomes an active slicer by swapping the N domain of hAgo2 without additional mutations. Intriguingly, the elements that make Argonaute an active slicer involve a sophisticated interplay between the active site and more distant regions of the enzyme.
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