Cordycepin is an analogue of adenosine lacking the 3'-OH. When incorporated into a growing RNA molecule, cordycepin prevents further elongation, thus producing a prematurely terminated RNA molecule. When HeLa cells are exposed to low concentrations of cordycepin, DNA and protein synthesis are unaffected during short exposure periods. The synthesis of completed ribosomal and ribosomal-precursor (45S) RNA is significantly depressed. Partially completed 45S ribosomal precursor molecules accumulate in the nucleolus. 18S ribosomal RNA can be cleaved from these incomplete precursors, while 32S ribosomal precursor cannot be produced from partially snythesized 45S molecules. The synthesis of transfer RNA is also reduced in the presence of cordycepin. The synthesis of the nuclear heterogeneous RNA species is unaffected by the drug while the cytoplasmic heterogeneous RNA is slightly reduced.

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