Polynucleotide phosphorylase: Not merely an RNase but a pivotal post-transcriptional regulator

by Todd A. Cameron, Lisa M. Matz, Nicholas R. De Lay

Almost 60 years ago, Severo Ochoa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the enzymatic synthesis of RNA by polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase). Although this discovery provided an important tool for deciphering the genetic code, subsequent work revealed that the predominant function of PNPase in bacteria and eukaryotes is catalyzing the reverse reaction, i.e., the release of ribonucleotides from RNA. PNPase has a crucial role in RNA metabolism in bacteria and eukaryotes mainly through its roles in processing and degrading RNAs, but additional functions in RNA metabolism have recently been reported for this enzyme. Here, we discuss these established and noncanonical functions for PNPase and the possibility that the major impact of PNPase on cell physiology is through its unorthodox roles.

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