Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) is a quality-control mechanism that selectively degrades mRNAs harboring premature termination (nonsense) codons. If translated, these mRNAs can produce truncated proteins with dominant-negative or deleterious gain-of-function activities. In this review, we describe the molecular mechanism of NMD. We first cover conserved factors known to be involved in NMD in all eukaryotes. We then describe a unique protein complex that is deposited on mammalian mRNAs during splicing, which defines a stop codon as premature. Interaction between this exon-junction complex (EJC) and NMD factors assembled at the upstream stop codon triggers a series of steps that ultimately lead to mRNA decay. We discuss whether these proofreading events preferentially occur during a "pioneer" round of translation in higher and lower eukaryotes, their cellular location, and whether they can use alternative EJC factors or act independent of the EJC.