An important mechanism of posttranscriptional gene regulation in mammalian cells is the rapid degradation of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) signaled by AU-rich elements (AREs) in their 3′ untranslated regions. HuR, a ubiquitously expressed member of the Hu family of RNA-binding proteins related to Drosophila ELAV, selectively binds AREs and stabilizes ARE-containing mRNAs when overexpressed in cultured cells. This review discusses mRNA decay as a general form of gene regulation, decay signaled by AREs, and the role of HuR and its Hu-family relatives in antagonizing this mRNA degradation pathway. The influence of newly identified protein ligands to HuR on HuR function in both normal and stressed cells may explain how ARE-mediated mRNA decay is regulated in response to environmental change.
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