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Nature. 1992 Dec 3;360(6403):488-91.

Control of RNase E-mediated RNA degradation by 5'-terminal base pairing in E. coli.

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


Despite the variety of messenger RNA half-lives in bacteria (0.5-30 min in Escherichia coli) and their importance in controlling gene expression, their molecular basis remains obscure. The lifetime of an entire mRNA molecule can be determined by features near its 5' end, but no 5' exoribonuclease has been identified in any prokaryotic organism. A mutation that inactivates E. coli RNase E also increases the average lifetime of bulk E. coli mRNA and of many individual messages, suggesting that cleavage by this endonuclease may be the rate-determining step in the degradation of most mRNAs in E. coli. We have investigated the substrate preference of RNase E in E. coli by using variants of RNA I, a small untranslated RNA whose swift degradation in vivo is initiated by RNase E cleavage at an internal site. We report here that RNase E has an unprecedented substrate specificity for an endoribonuclease, as it preferentially cleaves RNAs that have several unpaired nucleotides at the 5' end. The sensitivity of RNase E to 5'-terminal base pairing may explain how determinants near the 5' end can control rates of mRNA decay in bacteria.

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