The Hu antigens are composed of a family of neuronal-specific, RNA-binding proteins encoded by at least three distinct genes. All three gene products, HuD, HuC/ple21, and Hel-N1, are human homologues of Elav, a Drosophila protein required for neuronal development and maintenance. Although the three proteins are very similar in structure, they are differentiated by alternative splicing of their mRNAs. We report here that the Hu antigens bind avidly to the AU-rich element resident in many mRNAs that regulate cell proliferation. This interaction suggests that the Hu antigens promote neuronal differentiation by suppressing the neuroblast cell cycle. Such a mechanism provides a plausible model for the role of the Hu antigens in tumorigenesis, neuronal differentiation, and paraneoplastic neurologic disorders.