Differential expression of the genes expressing Pap pili in Escherichia coli was suggested to involve mRNAs with different stabilities. As the result of a post-transcriptional processing event, a papA gene-specific mRNA product (mRNA-A) accumulates in large excess relative to the primary mRNA-BA transcript. Our results show that the processed product, mRNA-A, is a translationally active molecule and that it is generated from the mRNA-BA precursor by an RNaseE-dependent mechanism. The processing did not occur under non-permissive conditions in an E. coli me mutant strain with a temperature-sensitive RNaseE. The endonuclease RNaseE was previously described as being chiefly involved in the processing of the 9S precursor of 5S rRNA. A comparison of nucleotide sequences of mRNA-BA and three other RNAs processed by RNAseE revealed a conserved motif around the cleavage sites. Mutations abolishing the activity of either of two other endoribonucleases, RNaselll and RNaseP, did not affect the pap mRNA processing event. However, a conditional mutation in the ams locus, causing altered stability of bulk mRNA in E. coli, led to reduced pap mRNA processing in a manner similar to the effect caused by RNaseE deficiency. Our findings are consistent with the idea that ams is related/alletic to rne. Absence of the processing event in the RNaseE mutant (me-3071) strain led to a four-fold stabilization of the mRNA-BA primary transcript. We conclude that the RNaseE-dependent processing event is the rate-limiting step in the decay of the papB-coding part of the primary transcript and in the production of the stable mRNA-A product. The present results with the papBA transcripts and previous analyses of rne mutants clearly suggest an important role for RNaseE in turnover of several E. coli mRNAs. Furthermore, the novel processing event exemplified by the pap system demonstrates that RNaseE can have a crucial role at the post-transcriptional stage in the production of stable and efficiently translated mRNA molecules from E. coli operons.