Nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) is arguably the best-studied eukaryotic messenger RNA (mRNA) surveillance pathway, yet fundamental questions concerning the molecular mechanism of target RNA selection remain unsolved. Besides degrading defective mRNAs harboring premature termination codons (PTCs), NMD also targets many mRNAs encoding functional full-length proteins. Thus, NMD impacts on a cell's transcriptome and is implicated in a range of biological processes that affect a broad spectrum of cellular homeostasis. Here, we focus on the steps involved in the recognition of NMD targets and the activation of NMD. We summarize the accumulating evidence that tightly links NMD to translation termination and we further discuss the recruitment and activation of the mRNA degradation machinery and the regulation of this complex series of events. Finally, we review emerging ideas concerning the mechanistic details of NMD activation and the potential role of NMD as a general surveyor of translation efficacy.
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