The C4 repressor of the temperate bacteriophages P1 and P7 inhibits antirepressor (Ant) synthesis and is essential for establishment and maintenance of lysogeny. C4 is an antisense RNA acting on a target, Ant mRNA, which is transcribed from the same promoter. The antisense-target RNA interaction requires processing of C4 RNA from a precursor RNA. Here we show that 5' maturation of C4 RNA in vivo depends on RNase P. In vitro, Escherichia coli RNase P and its catalytic RNA subunit (M1 RNA) can generate the mature 5' end of C4 RNA from P1 by a single endonucleolytic cut, whereas RNase P from the E. coli rnpA49 mutant, carrying a missense mutation in the RNase P protein subunit, is defective in the 5' maturation of C4 RNA. Primer extension analysis of RNA transcribed in vivo from a plasmid carrying the P1 c4 gene revealed that 5'-mature C4 RNA was the predominant species in rnpA+ bacteria, whereas virtually no mature C4 RNA was found in the temperature-sensitive rnpA49 strain at the restrictive temperature. Instead, C4 RNA molecules carrying up to five extra nucleotides beyond the 5' end accumulated. The same phenotype was observed in rnpA+ bacteria which harbored a plasmid carrying a P7 c4 mutant gene with a single C-->G base substitution in the structural homologue to the CCA 3' end of tRNAs. Implications of C4 RNA processing for the lysis/lysogeny decision process of bacteriophages P1 and P7 are discussed.