Antisense oligonucleotides have the potential to make revolutionary contributions to basic science and medicine. Oligonucleotides can bind mRNA and inhibit translation. Because they can be rapidly synthesized to be complementary to any sequence, they offer ideal tools for exploiting the massive amount of genome information now available. However, until recently, this potential was largely theoretical, and antisense experiments often produced inconclusive or misleading outcomes. This review will discuss the chemical and biological properties of some of the different types of oligomers now available and describe the challenges confronting in vitro and in vivo use of oligonucleotides. Oligomers with improved chemical properties, combined with advances in cell biology and success in clinical trials, are affording powerful new options for basic research, biotechnology, and medicine.
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