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The post-transcriptional addition of non-templated nucleotides to the 3' ends of RNA molecules can have a profound impact on their stability and biological function. Evidence accumulated over the past few decades has identified roles for polyadenylation in RNA stabilisation, degradation and, in the case of eukaryotic mRNAs, translational competence. By contrast, the biological significance of RNA 3' modification by uridylation has only recently started to become apparent. The evolutionary origin of eukaryotic RNA terminal uridyltransferases can be traced to an ancestral poly(A) polymerase. Here we review what is currently known about the biological roles of these enzymes, the ways in which their activity is regulated and the consequences of this covalent modification for the target RNA molecule, with a focus on those instances where uridylation has been found to contribute to RNA degradation. Roles for uridylation have been identified in the turnover of mRNAs, pre-microRNAs, piwi-interacting RNAs and the products of microRNA-directed mRNA cleavage; many mature microRNAs are also modified by uridylation, though the consequences in this case are currently less well understood. In the case of piwi-interacting RNAs, modification of the 3'-terminal nucleotide by the HEN1 methyltransferase blocks uridylation and so stabilises the small RNA. The extent to which other uridylation-dependent mechanisms of RNA decay are similarly regulated awaits further investigation. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: RNA Decay mechanisms.

Original publication




Journal article


Biochim Biophys Acta

Publication Date





654 - 665


Animals, Caenorhabditis elegans, Eukaryota, Humans, MicroRNAs, Nucleotidyltransferases, Phylogeny, Polynucleotide Adenylyltransferase, RNA Stability, Uridine, Zebrafish