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Summary

RNA processing and degradation are key processes in the control of transcript accumulation and thus in the control of gene expression. In Escherichia coli, the underlying mechanisms and components of RNA decay are well characterized. By contrast, Gram-positive bacteria do not possess several important players of E. coli RNA degradation, most notably the essential enzyme RNase E. Recent research on the model Gram-positive organism, Bacillus subtilis, has identified the essential RNases J1 and Y as crucial enzymes in RNA degradation. While RNase J1 is the first bacterial exoribonuclease with 5′-to-3′ processivity, RNase Y is the founding member of a novel class of endoribonucleases. Both RNase J1 and RNase Y have a broad impact on the stability of B. subtilis mRNAs; a depletion of either enzyme affects more than 25% of all mRNAs. RNases J1 and Y as well as RNase J2, the polynucleotide phosphorylase PNPase, the RNA helicase CshA and the glycolytic enzymes enolase and phosphofructokinase have been proposed to form a complex, the RNA degradosome of B. subtilis. This review presents a model, based on recent published data, of RNA degradation in B. subtilis. Degradation is initiated by RNase Y-dependent endonucleolytic cleavage, followed by processive exoribonucleolysis of the generated fragments both in 3′-to-5′ and in 5′-to-3′ directions. The implications of these findings for pathogenic Gram-positive bacteria are also discussed.