RNA levels in a cell are regulated by the relative rates of RNA synthesis and decay. We recently developed a new approach for measuring both RNA synthesis and decay in a single experimental setting by biosynthetic labeling of newly transcribed RNA. Here, we show that this provides measurements of RNA half-lives from microarray data with a so far unreached accuracy. Based on such measurements of RNA half-lives for human B-cells and mouse fibroblasts, we identified conserved regulatory principles for a large number of biological processes. We show that different regulatory patterns between functionally similar proteins are characterized by differences in the half-life of the corresponding transcripts and can be identified by measuring RNA half-life. We identify more than 100 protein families which show such differential regulatory patterns in both species. Additionally, we provide strong evidence that the activity of protein complexes consisting of subunits with overall long transcript half-lives can be regulated by transcriptional regulation of individual key subunits with short-lived transcripts. Based on this observation, we predict more than 100 key regulatory subunits for human complexes of which 28% could be confirmed in mice (P < 10(-9)). Therefore, this atlas of transcript half-lives provides new fundamental insights into many cellular processes.