The mRNAs of transiently expressed genes frequently contain an AU-rich sequence in the 3' untranslated region. We introduced a 51 nucleotide AT sequence from a human lymphokine gene, GM-CSF, into the 3' untranslated region of the rabbit beta-globin gene. Our experiments demonstrate that this caused the otherwise stable beta-globin mRNA to become highly unstable in vivo. The instability conferred by the AU sequence in the mRNA was partially alleviated by treatment of the cells with cycloheximide. We propose that the AU sequences are the recognition signal for an mRNA processing pathway which specifically degrades the mRNAs for certain lymphokines, cytokines, and proto-oncogenes.