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Mol Cell. 2007 Jul 6;27(1):79-90.

Initiation of RNA decay in Escherichia coli by 5' pyrophosphate removal.

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Kimmel Center for Biology and Medicine at the Skirball Institute, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016, USA.


The common belief that endonucleolytic cleavage is the initial, rate-determining step of mRNA decay in Escherichia coli fails to explain the influence of 5' termini on the half-lives of primary transcripts. We have re-examined the initial events of RNA degradation in that organism by devising an assay to probe the 5' phosphorylation state of RNA and by employing a self-cleaving hammerhead ribozyme to investigate the degradative consequences of an unphosphorylated 5' end. These studies have identified a previously unrecognized prior step in decay that triggers subsequent internal cleavage by the endonuclease RNase E and thereby governs RNA longevity: the rate-determining conversion of a triphosphorylated to a monophosphorylated 5' terminus. Our findings redefine the role of RNase E in RNA degradation and explain how unpaired 5'-terminal nucleotides can facilitate access to internal cleavage sites within primary transcripts. Moreover, these results reveal a striking parallel between the mechanisms of mRNA decay in prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms.

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