The self-propagation of misfolded conformations of tau underlies neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's. There is considerable interest in discovering the minimal sequence and active conformational nucleus that defines this self-propagating event. The microtubule-binding region, spanning residues 244-372, reproduces much of the aggregation behaviour of tau in cells and animal models. Further dissection of the amyloid-forming region to a hexapeptide from the third microtubule-binding repeat resulted in a peptide that rapidly forms fibrils in vitro. We show that this peptide lacks the ability to seed aggregation of tau244-372 in cells. However, as the hexapeptide is gradually extended to 31 residues, the peptides aggregate more slowly and gain potent activity to induce aggregation of tau244-372 in cells. X-ray fibre diffraction, hydrogen-deuterium exchange and solid-state NMR studies map the beta-forming region to a 25-residue sequence. Thus, the nucleus for self-propagating aggregation of tau244-372 in cells is packaged in a remarkably small peptide.