This laboratory previously reported that 5-fluorouracil (FUra) increases dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) precursor mRNA (pre-mRNA) levels relative to DHFR mRNA levels in a methotrexate-resistant KB cell line; these data suggested that incorporation of FUra into RNA may, in part, lead to cell death through the inhibition of mRNA processing (Will, C. L., and Dolnick, B.J. (1987) J. Biol. Chem. 262, 5433-5436). Utilizing a methotrexate-resistant KB cell line designated 1BT, we now report the kinetic basis for altered levels of DHFR RNA observed in FUra-treated cells. Long-term exposure to FUra had no effect on the steady-state level of DHFR pre-mRNA containing intron V or I. However, steady-state levels of total DHFR mRNA decreased 2.0-fold on a per cell basis in cells exposed to 1.0 microM FUra. No significant change in the half-life of total DHFR mRNA or pre-mRNA was observed in cells exposed to FUra (t1/2 = approximately 11.5 h and 50 min, respectively). Nuclear/cytoplasmic RNA labeling experiments demonstrated that the rate of nuclear DHFR RNA conversion to cytoplasmic DHFR mRNA decreased approximately 1.8-fold in FUra-treated cells. These results provide further evidence the FUra may inhibit processing of mRNA precursors and/or affect the stability of nuclear DHFR mRNA.