Post-transcriptional mechanisms operate in regulation of gene expression in bacteria, the amount of a given gene product being also dependent on the inactivation rate of its own message. Moreover, segmental differences in mRNA stability of polycistronic transcripts may be responsible for differential expression of genes clustered in operons. Given the absence of 5' to 3' exoribonucleolytic activities in prokaryotes, both endoribonucleases and 3' to 5' exoribonucleases are involved in chemical decay of mRNA. As the 3' to 5' exoribonucleolytic activities are readily blocked by stem-loop structures which are usual at the 3' ends of bacterial messages, the rate of decay is primarily determined by the rate of the first endonucleolytic cleavage within the transcripts, after which the resulting mRNA intermediates are degraded by the 3' to 5' exoribonucleases. Consequently, the stability of a given transcript is determined by the accessibility of suitable target sites to endonucleolytic activities. A considerable number of bacterial messages decay with a net 5' to 3' directionality. Two different alternative models have been proposed to explain such a finding, the first invoking the presence of functional coupling between degradation and the movement of the ribosomes along the transcripts, the second one implying the existence of a 5' to 3' processive '5' binding nuclease'. The different systems by which these two current models of mRNA decay have been tested will be presented with particular emphasis on polycistronic transcripts.
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