Iruka eliminates dysfunctional Argonaute by selective ubiquitination of its empty state.

Iruka eliminates dysfunctional Argonaute by selective ubiquitination of its empty state.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are loaded into the Argonaute subfamily of proteins (AGO) to form an effector complex that silences target genes. Empty but not miRNA-loaded AGO is selectively degraded across species. However, the mechanism and biological significance of selective AGO degradation remain unclear. We discovered a RING-type E3 ubiquitin ligase we named Iruka (Iru), which selectively ubiquitinates the empty form of Drosophila Ago1 to trigger its degradation. Iru preferentially binds empty Ago1 and ubiquitinates Lys514 in the L2 linker, which is predicted to be inaccessible in the miRNA-loaded state. Depletion of Iru results in global impairment of miRNA-mediated silencing of target genes and in the accumulation of aberrant Ago1 that is dysfunctional for canonical protein-protein interactions and miRNA loading. Our findings reveal a sophisticated mechanism for the selective degradation of empty AGO that underlies a quality control process to ensure AGO function.