An essential pre-mRNA splicing factor, the product of the PRP38 gene, has been genetically identified in a screen of temperature-sensitive mutants of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Shifting temperature-sensitive prp38 cultures from 23 to 37 degrees C prevents the first cleavage-ligation event in the excision of introns from mRNA precursors. In vitro splicing inactivation and complementation studies suggest that the PRP38-encoded factor functions, at least in part, after stable splicing complex formation. The PRP38 locus contains a 726-bp open reading frame coding for an acidic 28-kDa polypeptide (PRP38). While PRP38 lacks obvious structural similarity to previously defined splicing factors, heat inactivation of PRP38, PRP19, or any of the known U6 (or U4/U6) small nuclear ribonucleoprotein-associating proteins (i.e., PRP3, PRP4, PRP6, and PRP24) leads to a common, unexpected consequence: intracellular U6 small nuclear RNA (snRNA) levels decrease as splicing activity is lost. Curiously, U4 snRNA, normally extensively base paired with U6 snRNA, persists in the virtual absence of U6 snRNA.