Site of mRNA decay challenges cellular dogma

A team of researchers, led by Jeff Coller, PhD, assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Center for RNA Molecular Biology, recently made a discovery that alters a fundamental understanding of how gene expression is controlled within the cell.

The rates of mRNA synthesis and destruction determine its overall levels within a cell. While the process of mRNA synthesis has been studied intensely over the years, the mechanisms controlling its decay were not well understood—until now. In the August 2009 issue of Nature, Dr. Coller demonstrates that mRNA degradation occurs predominately on ribosomes; it does not have to occur within the processing bodies, as was previously thought.

"Many genetic diseases are linked to mutations that can cause dysregulation of mRNA decay, so it's important to know when, where and how the cell normally controls mRNA destruction," Dr. Coller says. "Now we can begin to understand how the degradation machinery interacts with ribosomes. Perhaps this understanding can lead to new advances in gene therapy and viral vaccinations."