NAD+-specific isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) has been reported to bind sequences in 5'-untranslated regions of yeast mitochondrial mRNAs. In the current study, an RNA transcript containing the 5'-untranslated region of the mRNA from the yeast mitochondrial COX2 gene is shown to be an allosteric inhibitor of the affinity-purified yeast enzyme. At 0.1 microM concentrations of the transcript, velocity of the IDH reaction is reduced to 20% of the value obtained in the absence of the RNA transcript. This inhibition is due to a 2. 5-fold increase in the S0.5 value for isocitrate. Significant inhibition of IDH activity is also obtained with a transcript containing a portion of the 5'-untranslated region of the yeast mitochondrial ATP9 gene and with an antisense form of the COX2 transcript, both of which contain potential stem-loop secondary structures implicated in binding of IDH. In contrast, much higher concentrations of yeast tRNA or poly(A)mRNA, respectively, 33- and 60-fold greater than that required for the COX2 transcript, are required to produce a 50% decrease in velocity. These results suggest that inhibition of activity is relatively specific for the 5'-untranslated regions of mitochondrial mRNAs. All measurable inhibition of IDH activity by RNA is eliminated by addition of 100 microM concentrations of the allosteric activator AMP. At equivalent concentrations, dAMP is less efficient than AMP as an allosteric activator of IDH and is proportionally less effective in protecting against inhibition of activity by the COX2 transcript. Other nucleotides that are not allosteric activators fail to protect IDH activity from inhibitory effects of RNA. Thus, alleviation of catalytic inhibition of IDH by mitochondrial mRNA correlates with the property of allosteric activation.