In flies, 22-23-nucleotide (nt) microRNA duplexes typically contain mismatches and begin with uridine, so they bind Argonaute1 (Ago1), whereas 21-nt siRNA duplexes are perfectly paired and begin with cytidine, promoting their loading into Ago2. A subset of Drosophila endogenous siRNAs-the hairpin-derived hp-esiRNAs-are born as mismatched duplexes that often begin with uridine. These would be predicted to load into Ago1, yet accumulate at steady-state bound to Ago2. In vitro, such hp-esiRNA duplexes assemble into Ago1. In vivo, they encounter complementary target mRNAs that trigger their tailing and trimming, causing Ago1-loaded hp-esiRNAs to be degraded. In contrast, Ago2-associated hp-esiRNAs are 2'-O-methyl modified at their 3' ends, protecting them from tailing and trimming. Consequently, the steady-state distribution of esiRNAs reflects not only their initial sorting between Ago1 and Ago2 according to their duplex structure, length, and first nucleotide, but also the targeted destruction of the single-stranded small RNAs after their loading into an Argonaute protein.
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