Transferrin receptor (TfR) mRNA expression is tightly linked to intracellular iron levels. Upon iron deprivation, the iron regulatory protein (IRP) stabilizes TfR mRNA by binding to stem-loop structures in its 3'-untranslated region, whereas increased iron levels result in inactivation of the mRNA-binding protein and rapid degradation of TfR mRNA. Although IRP and the regulation of its RNA binding activity have been studied intensively, little is known about the mechanism of TfR mRNA degradation. In order to get more information about factors involved in this process we investigated the in vivo IRP-RNA interaction and the effect of transcription inhibitors on the iron-dependent decay of TfR mRNA. Here we demonstrate that part of the active IRP co-localizes with TfR mRNA to the rough endoplasmic reticulum. High intracellular iron levels led to a drastic reduction of this active RNA-bound IRP in vivo, indicating that IRP dissociates prior to TfR mRNA decay. Furthermore, the transcription inhibitor actinomycin D and translation inhibitor cycloheximide suppressed TfR mRNA degradation but did not interfere with the IRP dissociation step. Other inhibitors of RNA polymerase II had no effect on iron-dependent degradation of TfR mRNA. However, high concentrations of alpha-amanitin known to block transcription by RNA polymerase III interfered with mRNA decay suggesting the involvement of polymerase III transcripts in the degradation pathway.