sense and antisense?

Brian Fristensky frist at
Fri Nov 25 18:23:47 EST 1994

In article 174 at, chihara at (Dr. Chihara) writes:
> I have seen so many different ways of calling DNA strands sense and 
> antisense that I begin to think it is all nonsense. 
> If antisense RNA is comp. to mRNA, shouldn't the template strand in the 
> DNA be antisense?  This makes the complement (the 5' end we normally see 
> displayed) the sense strand. Hartl's book defines things the other way 
> round, which makes no sense to me. Is there  consensus out there?

The original use of the term 'sense strand' referred to the template
strand from which RNA is synthesized, as Hartl points out. (This never
made sense to me either :) )

Antisense RNA technology, as you mention, generates RNA corresponding
to the template strand, which in some way interferes with expression
of the target gene. 

In the antisense RNA context, you have no choice but to use the terms
sense and antisense, and in this context, there is no doubt as to
what you mean.

In the context of transcription, I advise my students not to use the
terms sense and antisense, because of the confusion regarding these
terms. If you can get away with only referring to the 'template strand',
use that term, because it is always clear what you mean by that.
If you must distinguish between the two, it is probably best to use
the terms '+ strand' and '- strand', which also have been used
consistently in the literature. For example, there are + strand RNA viruses
which can be directly translated into proteins, and - strand RNA viruses
which need to go through various replication steps before being translated.

Brian Fristensky                | 
Department of Plant Science     |  Life doesn't imitate art,
University of Manitoba          |  it imitates bad television. 
Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2  CANADA    |  
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