The control of mRNA degradation is an important component of the regulation of gene expression since the steady-state concentration of mRNA is determined both by the rates of synthesis and of decay. Two general pathways of mRNA decay have been described in eukaryotes. Both pathways share the exonucleolytic removal of the poly(A) tail (deadenylation) as the first step. In one pathway, deadenylation is followed by the hydrolysis of the cap and processive degradation of the mRNA body by a 5' exonuclease. In the second pathway, the mRNA body is degraded by a complex of 3' exonucleases before the remaining cap structure is hydrolyzed. This review discusses the proteins involved in the catalysis and control of both decay pathways.