A long look at short prokaryotic Argonautes

Koopal, Balwina; Mutte, Sumanth K.; Swarts, Daan C.


Argonaute proteins (Agos) use small 15–30 nucleotide-long guides to bind and/or cleave complementary target nucleic acids. Eukaryotic Agos mediate RNA-guided RNA silencing, while ‘long’ prokaryotic Agos (pAgos) use RNA or DNA guides to interfere with invading plasmid and viral DNA. Here, we review the function and mechanisms of truncated and highly divergent ‘short’ pAgos, which, until recently, remained functionally uncharacterized. Short pAgos have retained the Middle (MID) and P-element-Induced Wimpy Testis (PIWI) domains important for guide-mediated target binding, but lack the ability to cleave their targets. Instead, emerging insights reveal that various short pAgos interact with distinct accessory ‘effector’ enzymes. Upon guide-mediated detection of invading DNA by short pAgos, their associated effector enzymes kill the host cell and, consequentially, prevent spread of the invader.