This review provides a description of the known Escherichia coli ribonucleases (RNases), focusing on their structures, catalytic properties, genes, physiological roles, and possible regulation. Currently, eight E. coli exoribonucleases are known. These are RNases II, R, D, T, PH, BN, polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase), and oligoribonuclease (ORNase). Based on sequence analysis and catalytic properties, the eight exoribonucleases have been grouped into four families. These are the RNR family, including RNase II and RNase R; the DEDD family, including RNase D, RNase T, and ORNase; the RBN family, consisting of RNase BN; and the PDX family, including PNPase and RNase PH. Seven well-characterized endoribonucleases are known in E. coli. These are RNases I, III, P, E, G, HI, and HII. Homologues to most of these enzymes are also present in Salmonella. Most of the endoribonucleases cleave RNA in the presence of divalent cations, producing fragments with 3'-hydroxyl and 5'-phosphate termini. RNase H selectively hydrolyzes the RNA strand of RNA.DNA hybrids. Members of the RNase H family are widely distributed among prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms in three distinct lineages, RNases HI, HII, and HIII. It is likely that E. coli contains additional endoribonucleases that have not yet been characterized. First of all, endonucleolytic activities are needed for certain known processes that cannot be attributed to any of the known enzymes. Second, homologues of known endoribonucleases are present in E. coli. Third, endonucleolytic activities have been observed in cell extracts that have different properties from known enzymes.
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