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Mol Cell. 2009 Apr 24;34(2):155-67. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2009.02.032.

An alpha motif at Tas3 C terminus mediates RITS cis spreading and promotes heterochromatic gene silencing.

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  • 1Structural Biology Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10065, USA.


RNA interference (RNAi) plays a pivotal role in the formation of heterochromatin at the fission yeast centromeres. The RNA-induced transcriptional silencing (RITS) complex, composed of heterochromatic small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), the siRNA-binding protein Ago1, the chromodomain protein Chp1, and the Ago1/Chp1-interacting protein Tas3, provides a physical tether between the RNAi and heterochromatin assembly pathways. Here, we report the structural and functional characterization of a C-terminal Tas3 alpha-helical motif (TAM), which self-associates into a helical polymer and is required for cis spreading of RITS in centromeric DNA regions. Site-directed mutations of key residues within the hydrophobic monomer-monomer interface disrupt Tas3-TAM polymeric self-association in vitro and result in loss of gene silencing, spreading of RITS, and a dramatic reduction in centromeric siRNAs in vivo. These results demonstrate that, in addition to the chromodomain of Chp1 and siRNA-loaded Ago1, Tas3 self-association is required for RITS spreading and efficient heterochromatic gene silencing at centromeric repeat regions.

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