Escherichia coli contains operons called "addiction modules," encoding toxin and antitoxin, which are responsible for growth arrest and cell death. Here, we demonstrate that MazF toxin encoded by "mazEF addiction module" is a sequence-specific (ACA) endoribonuclease functional only for single-stranded RNA. MazF works as a ribonuclease independent of ribosomes, and is, therefore, functionally distinct from RelE, another E. coli toxin, which assists mRNA cleavage at the A site on ribosomes. Upon induction, MazF cleaves whole cellular mRNAs to efficiently block protein synthesis. Purified MazF inhibited protein synthesis in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell-free systems. This inhibition was released by MazE, the labile antitoxin against MazF. Thus, MazF functions as a toxic endoribonuclease to interfere with the function of cellular mRNAs by cleaving them at specific sequences leading to rapid cell growth arrest and cell death. The role of such endoribonucleases may have broad implication in cell physiology under various growth conditions.