DEAD-Box proteins (DBPs) constitute a prominent class of RNA remodeling factors that play a role in virtually all aspects of RNA metabolism. To better define their cellular functions, deletions in the genes encoding each of the Escherichia coli DBPs were combined with mutations in genes encoding different Ribonucleases (RNases). Significantly, doubledeletion strains lacking Ribonuclease R (RNase R) and either the DeaD or SrmB DBP were found to display growth defects and an enhanced accumulation of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) fragments. As RNase R is known to play a key role in removing rRNA degradation products, these observations initially suggested that these two DBPs could be directly involved in the same process. However, additional investigations indicated that DeaD and SrmB-dependent rRNA breakdown is caused by delays in ribosome assembly that increase the exposure of nascent RNAs to endonucleolytic cleavage. Consistent with this notion, mutations in factors known to be important for ribosome assembly also resulted in enhanced rRNA breakdown. Additionally, significant levels of rRNA breakdown products could be visualized in growing cells even in the absence of assembly defects. These findings reveal a hitherto unappreciated mechanism of rRNA degradation under conditions of both normal and abnormal ribosome assembly.
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