The endoribonuclease RNase E plays a major part in mRNA degradation in Escherichia coli in addition to its role in processing rRNA. RNase E is encoded by an essential gene, rne, also known as ams and hmp, which is autoregulated post-transcriptionally. Here we report a transient decrease in the steady state level of the full-length rne transcript and a corresponding decline in the amount of the protein and enzymatic activity. During this period an mRNA fragment, lacking an intact 5' end, accumulates. This down-regulation of RNase E occurs under aerobic growth conditions in rich medium during a short diauxic lag in mid-exponential phase; it most likely reflects an exhaustion of a not yet identified medium compound which is followed by switching on a new metabolic pathway. During this lag, the levels of bulk protein are maintained. Our results suggest that a transient drop in the intracellular RNase E level is a means of cells to retard mRNA turnover in a period of adjustment to medium utilization. Furthermore, the here described regulation of the rne transcript and its cognate gene product seems to occur by an RNase E-independent mechanism responsive to changes in growth conditions.