A novel response to growth rate was found with expression of the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (cat) gene in Escherichia coli. The amount of cat mRNA relative to total RNA increased about 11-fold as growth rates decreased 5- to 6-fold, without an increase in translation. The accumulation of cat mRNA was in contrast to decreased cellular concentrations of total RNA, trxA, ompA, or 23S rRNA as the growth rate decreased and was not due to changes in gene dosage or mRNA stability. Stability of the cat mRNA does not appear to be regulated by growth rate. No significant change in either chemical or functional stability was observed within a five- to sixfold range of growth rates when chemostat-grown cells were used. However, cat mRNA stability was affected by growth medium composition. The half-life of cat mRNA decreased about threefold, with an approximate fourfold increase in generation time due to changes in growth medium. Transcriptional studies have indicated that accumulation of cat mRNA at slow growth rates is the result of a specific transcriptional response to changes in cellular generation times. We propose that increases in the cellular concentration of a specific message at slow growth rates may reflect an additional type of survival response in E. coli.