RNase II regulates RNase PH and is essential for cell survival during starvation and stationary phase

Shaheen Sulthana, Ernesto Quesada, Murray P. Deutscher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


RNase II is the most active exoribonuclease in Escherichia coli cell extracts. Yet, its removal appears to have no deleterious effect on growing cells. Here, we show that RNase II is required for cell survival during prolonged stationary phase and upon starvation. The absence of RNase II leads to greatly increased rRNA degradation and to the accumulation of rRNA fragments, both of which lead to a decline in cell survival. The deleterious effects of RNase II removal can be completely reversed by the simultaneous absence of a second exoribonuclease, RNase PH, an enzyme known to be required to initiate ribosome degradation in starving cells. We have now found that the role of RNase II in this process is to regulate the amount of RNase PH present in starving cells, and it does so at the level of RNase PH stability. RNase PH normally decreases as much as 90% during starvation because the protein is unstable under these conditions; however, in the absence of RNase II the amount of RNase PH remains relatively unchanged. Based on these observations, we propose that in the presence of RNase II, nutrient deprivation leads to a dramatic reduction in the amount of RNase PH, thereby limiting the extent of rRNA degradation and ensuring cell survival during this stress. In the absence of RNase II, RNase PH levels remain high, leading to excessive ribosome loss and ultimately to cell death. These findings provide another example of RNase regulation in response to environmental stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1456-1464
Number of pages9
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Escherichia coli
  • Exoribonucleases
  • RRNA
  • Ribosome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology


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