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The degradation of some proto-oncogene and lymphokine mRNAs is controlled in part by an AU-rich element (ARE) in the 3' untranslated region. It was shown previously (G. Brewer, Mol. Cell. Biol. 11:2460-2466, 1991) that two polypeptides (37 and 40 kDa) copurified with fractions of a 130,000 x g postribosomal supernatant (S130) from K562 cells that selectively accelerated degradation of c-myc mRNA in a cell-free decay system. These polypeptides bound specifically to the c-myc and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor 3' UTRs, suggesting they are in part responsible for selective mRNA degradation. In the present work, we have purified the RNA-binding component of this mRNA degradation activity, which we refer to as AUF1. Using antisera specific for these polypeptides, we demonstrate that the 37- and 40-kDa polypeptides are immunologically cross-reactive and that both polypeptides are phosphorylated and can be found in a complex(s) with other polypeptides. Immunologically related polypeptides are found in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm. The antibodies were also used to clone a cDNA for the 37-kDa polypeptide. This cDNA contains an open reading frame predicted to produce a protein with several features, including two RNA recognition motifs and domains that potentially mediate protein-protein interactions. These results provide further support for a role of this protein in mediating ARE-directed mRNA degradation.