In Caenorhabditis elegans, polycistronic pre-mRNAs are processed by cleavage and polyadenylation at the 3' ends of the upstream genes and trans splicing, generally to the specialized spliced leader SL2, at the 5' ends of the downstream genes. Previous studies have indicated a relationship between these two events in the processing of a heat shock-induced gpd-2-gpd-3 polycistronic pre-mRNA. Here, we report mutational analysis of the intercistronic region of this operon by linker scan analysis. Surprisingly, no sequences downstream of the 3' end were important for 3'-end formation. In contrast, a U-rich (Ur) element located 29 bp downstream of the site of 3'-end formation was shown to be important for downstream mRNA biosynthesis. This approximately 20-bp element is sufficient for SL2 trans splicing and mRNA accumulation when transplanted to a heterologous context. Furthermore, when the downstream gene was replaced by a gene from another organism, no loss of trans-splicing specificity was observed, suggesting that the Ur element may be the primary signal required for downstream mRNA processing.