Small RNA pathways defend the germlines of animals against selfish genetic elements, yet pathway activities need to be contained to prevent silencing of self genes. Here, we reveal a proteolytic mechanism that controls endogenous small interfering (22G) RNA activity in the Caenorhabditis elegans germline to protect genome integrity and maintain fertility. We find that DPF-3, a P-granule-localized N-terminal dipeptidase orthologous to mammalian dipeptidyl peptidase (DPP) 8/9, processes the unusually proline-rich N termini of WAGO-1 and WAGO-3 Argonaute (Ago) proteins. Without DPF-3 activity, these WAGO proteins lose their proper complement of 22G RNAs. Desilencing of repeat-containing and transposon-derived transcripts, DNA damage, and acute sterility ensue. These phenotypes are recapitulated when WAGO-1 and WAGO-3 are rendered resistant to DPF-3-mediated processing, identifying them as critical substrates of DPF-3. We conclude that N-terminal processing of Ago proteins regulates their activity and promotes silencing of selfish genetic elements by ensuring Ago association with appropriate small RNAs.
Keywords: 22G RNA; C. elegans; DPF-3; DPP8; DPP9; DPPIV; Dipeptidyl peptidase; P-granule; WAGO-1; WAGO-3.
Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.