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Mol Cell Biol. 1995 Apr;15(4):2219-30.

The nonamer UUAUUUAUU is the key AU-rich sequence motif that mediates mRNA degradation.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115.


Labile mRNAs that encode cytokine and immediate-early gene products often contain AU-rich sequences within their 3' untranslated region (UTR). These AU-rich sequences appear to be key determinants of the short half-lives of these mRNAs, although the sequence features of these elements and the mechanism by which they target mRNAs for rapid decay have not been fully defined. We have examined the features of AU-rich elements (AREs) that are crucial for their function as determinants of mRNA instability in mammalian cells by testing the ability of various mutant c-fos AREs and synthetic AREs to direct rapid mRNA deadenylation and decay when inserted within the 3' UTR of the normally stable beta-globin mRNA. Evidence is presented that the pentamer AUUUA, which previously was suggested to be the minimal determinant of instability present in mammalian AREs, cannot direct rapid mRNA deadenylation and decay. Instead, the nonomer UUAUUUAUU is the elemental AU-rich sequence motif that destabilizes mRNA. Removal of one uridine residue from either end of the nonamer (UUAUUUAU or UAUUUAUU) results in a decrease of potency of the element, while removal of a uridine residue from both ends of the nonamer (UAUUUAU) eliminates detectable destabilizing activity. The inclusion of an additional uridine residue at both ends of the nonamer (UUUAUUUAUUU) does not further increase the efficacy of the element. Taken together, these findings suggest that the nonamer UUAUUUAUU is the minimal AU-rich motif that effectively destabilizes mRNA. Additional ARE potency is achieved by combining multiple copies of this nonamer in a single mRNA 3' UTR. Furthermore, analysis of poly(A) shortening rates for ARE-containing mRNAs reveals that the UUAUUUAUU sequence also accelerates mRNA deadenylation and suggests that the UUAUUUAUU motif targets mRNA for rapid deadenylation as an early step in the mRNA decay process.

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