The reprogramming of gene expression in heat stress is a key determinant to organism survival. Gene expression is downregulated through translation initiation inhibition and release of free mRNPs that are rapidly degraded or stored. In mammals, heat also triggers 5'-ribosome pausing preferentially on transcripts coding for HSC/HSP70 chaperone targets, but the impact of such phenomenon on mRNA fate remains unknown. Here, we provide evidence that, in Arabidopsis thaliana, heat provokes 5'-ribosome pausing leading to the XRN4-mediated 5'-directed decay of translating mRNAs. We also show that hindering HSC/HSP70 activity at 20°C recapitulates heat effects by inducing ribosome pausing and co-translational mRNA turnover. Strikingly, co-translational decay targets encode proteins with high HSC/HSP70 binding scores and hydrophobic N-termini, two characteristics that were previously observed for transcripts most prone to pausing in animals. This work suggests for the first time that stress-induced variation of translation elongation rate is an evolutionarily conserved process leading to the polysomal degradation of thousands of 'non-aberrant' mRNAs.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.