Hairpin ribozymes catalyze a self-cleavage reaction that provides a simple model for quantitative analyses of intracellular mechanisms of RNA catalysis. Decay rates of chimeric mRNAs containing self-cleaving ribozymes give a direct measure of intracellular cleavage kinetics in yeast. Intracellular ribozyme-mediated cleavage occurs at similar rates and shows similar inhibition by ribozyme mutations as ribozyme-mediated reactions in vitro, but only when ribozymes are located in a favorable mRNA sequence context. The impact of cleavage on mRNA abundance is shown to depend directly on intrinsic mRNA stability. Surprisingly, cleavage products are no more labile than uncleaved mRNAs despite the loss of terminal cap structures or poly (A).