mRNA decay was studied during spore germination in Dictyoselium discoideum by the use of three previously isolated cDNA clones, pLK109, pLK229, and pRK270, which are specific for mRNAs developmentally regulated during spore germination. The half-life of a constitutive mRNA, pLK125, which is present throughout germination, growth, and development, as also determined. Nogalamycin, a DNA-intercalating compound, was used to inhibit RNA synthesis. Total RNA was isolated at intervals after addition of the drug, and the decay of mRNAs specific for the cDNA clones was determined by both Northern blot and RNA dot hybridization. If nogalamycin was added immediately after activation of dormant spores, neither pLK229 nor pLK109 mRNA decayed, but pLK125 mRNA did decay. Although pLK109 mRNA did not decay under these conditions, the RNA was smaller 1 h after activation than in dormant spores, indicating that it was processed normally. At 1 h after activation, pLK229-, pLK125-specific mRNAs decayed exponentially, with half-lives of 24, 39, and 165 min, respectively. Under the same conditions, decay of pLK109-specific mRNA was biphasic. Thirty-eight percent of the mRNA decayed with a half-life of 5.5 min, and the remainder decayed with a half-life of 115 min. It seems likely that nogalamycin inhibits the synthesis of an unstable component of the mRNA degradative pathway which is needed continuously for the decay of pLK109 mRNA. By extrapolating the curve representing the rapidly decaying component, a half-life of 18 min was calculated for pLK109-specific mRNA. The mRNAs developmentally regulated during spore germination have half-lives shorter than that of the constitutive messenger and shorter than the average half-life of 3 to 4 h previously determined for total Dicyostelium polyadenylated mRNA.