The brief existence of an mRNA molecule begins with transcription, and ultimately ends in
degradation. During its life, an mRNA molecule may also be processed, edited, and transported
prior to translation. Eukaryotic mRNA molecules often require extensive processing and
transport, while prokaryotic molecules do not.
Transcription is when RNA is made from DNA. During transcription, RNA polymerase makes a
copy of a gene from the DNA to mRNA as needed. This process is similar in eukaryotes and
prokaryotes. One notable difference, however, is that prokaryotic RNA polymerase associates
with mRNA-processing enzymes during transcription so that processing can proceed quickly
after the start of transcription. The short-lived, unprocessed or partially processed product is
termed precursor mRNA, or pre-mRNA; once completely processed, it is termed mature mRNA.
Processing of mRNA differs greatly among eukaryotes, bacteria, and archea. Non-eukaryotic
mRNA is, in essence, mature upon transcription and requires no processing, except in rare cases.
Eukaryotic pre-mRNA, however, requires extensive processing.
A 5' cap (also termed an RNA cap, an RNA 7-methylguanosine cap, or an RNA m G cap) is a
modified guanine nucleotide that has been added to the "front" or 5' end of a eukaryotic
messenger RNA shortly after the start of transcription. The 5' cap consists of a terminal 7-
methylguanosine residue that is linked through a 5'-5'-triphosphate bond to the first transcribed
nucleotide. Its presence is critical for recognition by the ribosome and protection from RNases.
Cap addition is coupled to transcription, and occurs co-transcriptionally, such that each
influences the other. Shortly after the start of transcription, the 5' end of the mRNA being
synthesized is bound by a cap-synthesizing complex associated with RNA polymerase.
This enzymatic complexcatalyzes the chemical reactions that are required for mRNA capping.
Synthesis proceeds as a multi-step biochemical reaction.
Splicing is the process by which pre-mRNA is modified to remove certain stretches of non-
coding sequences called introns; the stretches that remain include protein-coding sequences and
are called exons. Sometimes pre-mRNA messages may be spliced in several different ways,
allowing a single gene to encode multiple proteins. This process is called alternative splicing.
Splicing is usually performed by an RNA-protein complex called the spliceosome, but some
RNA molecules are also capable of catalyzing their own splicing (see ribozymes).
In some instances, an mRNA will be edited, changing the nucleotide composition of that mRNA.
An example in humans is the apolipoprotein B mRNA, which is edited in some tissues, but not
others. The editing creates an early stop codon, which, upon translation, produces a shorter
Polyadenylation is the covalent linkage of a polyadenylyl moiety to a messenger RNA molecule.
In eukaryotic organisms, most messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules are polyadenylated at the 3'
end. The poly(A) tail and the protein bound to it aid in protecting mRNA from degradation by
exonucleases. Polyadenylation is also important for transcription termination, export of the
mRNA from the nucleus, and translation. mRNA can also be polyadenylated in prokaryotic
organisms, where poly(A) tails act to facilitate, rather than impede, exonucleolytic degradation.
Polyadenylation occurs during and immediately after transcription of DNA into RNA. After
transcription has been terminated, the mRNA chain is cleaved through the action of an endonuclease complex associated with RNA polymerase. After the mRNA has been cleaved,
around 250 adenosine residues are added to the free 3' end at the cleavage site. This reaction is
catalyzed by polyadenylate polymerase. Just as in alternative splicing, there can be more than
one polyadenylation variant of a mRNA.
Another difference between eukaryotes and prokaryotes is mRNA transport. Because eukaryotic
transcription and translation is compartmentally separated, eukaryotic mRNAs must be exported
from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. Mature mRNAs are recognized by their processed
modifications and then exported through the nuclear pore. In neurons, mRNA must be
transported from the soma to the dendrites where local translation occurs in response to external