The problem of mRNA decay in E. coli has recently seen exciting progress, with the discoveries that key degradation enzymes are associated together in a high molecular weight degradosome and that polyadenylation promotes decay. Recent advances make it clear that mRNA decay in bacteria is far more interesting enzymatically than might have been predicted. In-depth study of specific mRNAs has revealed multiple pathways for degradation. Which pathway a given mRNA follows appears to depend in large part on the location of the initiating endonucleolytic cleavage within the mRNA. During the steps of mRNA decay, stable RNA structures pose formidable barriers to the 3′ → 5′ exonucleases. However, polyadenylation is now emerging as a process that plays an important role in maintaining the momentum of exonucleolytic degradation by adding single-stranded extensions to the 3′ ends of mRNAs and their decay intermediates, thereby facilitating further exonuclease digestion.
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