Beyond quality control: The role of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) in regulating gene expression

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2018 Mar:75:78-87. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2017.08.053. Epub 2017 Sep 1.


Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) has traditionally been described as a quality control system that rids cells of aberrant mRNAs with crippled protein coding potential. However, transcriptome-wide profiling of NMD deficient cells identified a plethora of seemingly intact mRNAs coding for functional proteins as NMD targets. This led to the view that NMD constitutes an additional post-transcriptional layer of gene expression control involved in the regulation of many different biological pathways. Here, we review our current knowledge about the role of NMD in embryonic development and tissue-specific cell differentiation. We further summarize how NMD contributes to balancing of the integrated stress response and to cellular homeostasis of splicing regulators and NMD factors through auto-regulatory feedback loops. In addition, we discuss recent evidence that suggests a role for NMD as an innate immune response against several viruses. Altogether, NMD appears to play an important role in a broad spectrum of biological pathways, many of which still remain to be discovered.

Keywords: NMD; Neuronal differentiation; Posttranscriptional gene regulation; RNA turnover; SMG1; SMG5; SMG6; SMG7; Spermatogenesis; Stress response; UPF1; UPF2; UPF3A; UPF3B; Unfolded protein response; mRNA surveillance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics
  • Nonsense Mediated mRNA Decay*
  • Quality Control
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • RNA, Messenger