RNase E is an essential endoribonuclease that plays a central role in the processing and degradation of RNA in Escherichia coli and other bacteria. Most endoribonucleases have been shown to act distributively; however, Feng et al. [(2002) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 99, 14746−14751] have recently found that RNase E acts via a scanning mechanism. A structural explanation for the processivity of RNase E is provided here, with our finding that the conserved catalytic domain of E. coli RNase E forms a homotetramer. Nondissociating nanoflow-electrospray mass spectrometry suggests that the tetramer binds up to four molecules of a specific substrate RNA analogue. The tetrameric assembly of the N-terminal domain of RNase E is consistent with crystallographic analyses, which indicate that the tetramer possesses approximate D2 dihedral symmetry. Using X-ray solution scattering data and symmetry restraints, a solution shape is calculated for the tetramer. This shape, together with limited proteolysis data, suggests that the S1-RNA binding domains of RNase E lie on the periphery of the tetramer. These observations have implications for the structure and function of the RNase E/RNase G ribonuclease family and for the assembly of the E. coli RNA degradosome, in which RNase E is the central component.