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Methods Enzymol. 2008;448:335-57. doi: 10.1016/S0076-6879(08)02617-7.

Messenger RNA half-life measurements in mammalian cells.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.


The recognition of the importance of mRNA turnover in regulating eukaryotic gene expression has mandated the development of reliable, rigorous, and "user-friendly" methods to accurately measure changes in mRNA stability in mammalian cells. Frequently, mRNA stability is studied indirectly by analyzing the steady-state level of mRNA in the cytoplasm; in this case, changes in mRNA abundance are assumed to reflect only mRNA degradation, an assumption that is not always correct. Although direct measurements of mRNA decay rate can be performed with kinetic labeling techniques and transcriptional inhibitors, these techniques often introduce significant changes in cell physiology. Furthermore, many critical mechanistic issues as to deadenylation kinetics, decay intermediates, and precursor-product relationships cannot be readily addressed by these methods. In light of these concerns, we have previously reported transcriptional pulsing methods based on the c-fos serum-inducible promoter and the tetracycline-regulated (Tet-off) promoter systems to better explain mechanisms of mRNA turnover in mammalian cells. In this chapter, we describe and discuss in detail different protocols that use these two transcriptional pulsing methods. The information described here also provides guidelines to help develop optimal protocols for studying mammalian mRNA turnover in different cell types under a wide range of physiologic conditions.

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