Eukaryotic mRNAs generally possess a 5' end N7 methyl guanosine (m7G) cap that promotes their translation and stability. However, mammalian mRNAs can also carry a 5' end nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) cap that, in contrast to the m7G cap, does not support translation but instead promotes mRNA decay. The mammalian and fungal noncanonical DXO/Rai1 decapping enzymes efficiently remove NAD+ caps, and cocrystal structures of DXO/Rai1 with 3'-NADP+ illuminate the molecular mechanism for how the "deNADding" reaction produces NAD+ and 5' phosphate RNA. Removal of DXO from cells increases NAD+-capped mRNA levels and enables detection of NAD+-capped intronic small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs), suggesting NAD+ caps can be added to 5'-processed termini. Our findings establish NAD+ as an alternative mammalian RNA cap and DXO as a deNADding enzyme modulating cellular levels of NAD+-capped RNAs. Collectively, these data reveal that mammalian RNAs can harbor a 5' end modification distinct from the classical m7G cap that promotes rather than inhibits RNA decay.
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