Antisense and sensibilities

Ferland Louis H. ferlandl at ERE.UMontreal.CA
Thu Jan 4 18:15:07 EST 1996

On Thu, 4 Jan 1996, Joanne Tornow wrote:

> Date: Thu, 04 Jan 1996 19:33:02 GMT
> From: Joanne Tornow <jtornow at>
> To: methods at
> Subject: Re: Antisense and sensibilities
> pnh at (Paul N Hengen) wrote:
> >Robert Horton (horton at wrote:
> >: This sense-antisense discussion would make a useful addition to the FAQ.
> >: Whadda ya think, Paul?
> >: -Bob Horton
> >Well, maybe it might be better reviewed in TIBS as discussion, rather than
> >me taking sides. I had an e-mail conversation with Steve Laskey over this
> >and he asked which is sense and which is antisense when referring to DNA.
> >I replied like this:
> >| I had a look at G. Stent's older books which described in some detail how
> >| tRNA was discovered first, before the structure of mRNA and DNA. During
> >| that time (1950's) tRNA was thought to have "anti-codons" and it was not
> >| known where the codons were because they didn't know about mRNA. It all then
> >| had to be described in terms related to tRNA, and I think it got very hairy
> >| when the intermediary (mRNA) was discovered. I could be wrong, but that's
> >| my impression. Then, start throwing in "anti-" with "sense" on DNA because of
> >| "nonsense" triplet codons on mRNA and I get a severe headache.
> >| I don't like the terms sense and anti-sense when describing DNA, so I
> >| avoid that. I feel both terms should be thrown out. How about the R
> >| strand which is the same as mRNA except for U's, and the C strand for
> >| the one complementary to that?  Hmmm...too simple?
> >The bottom line...I far as I know, there are only 2 strands of DNA ;-) If you
> >are talking about coding, it must be with respect to production of mRNA. One
> >DNA strand is the same as the mRNA except for the U's. The other isn't. Any
> >comments about this? Off base or not?
> >*******************************************************************************
> >* Paul N. Hengen, Ph.D.                           /--------------------------/*
> >* National Cancer Institute                       |Internet: pnh at |*
> >* Laboratory of Mathematical Biology              |   Phone: (301) 846-5581  |*
> >* Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center|     FAX: (301) 846-5598  |*
> >* Frederick, Maryland 21702-1201 USA              /--------------------------/*
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> When I teach this in my Genetics class, I refer to the DNA strand with
> the same sequence as the mRNA as the sense strand, and the other DNA
> strand (which is complementary to the mRNA) as the template strand.
> The students rarely get confused by this nomenclature, as it reflects
> the actual functions of the two strands.
> Joanne Tornow
> University of Southern Mississippi
Unfortunately (I side with Dr. Lasky), I think you are teaching a wrong 
definition of "sense". They may not be confused in your class and answer 
your exam questions as per what they were taught, but most textbooks 
seem to disagree (see Lasky's previous posting). 

We've got to fix this! Of course, we could decide to adopt this definition 
of "sense" as the strand which, when read by a polymerase, generates a 
non-sensical RNA. I'm being the devil's advocate here (no offense intended), 
just to show that the term is INTRINSICALLY confusing. I'd rather avoid it 
completely when referring to DNA and reserve it for RNA only. See my 
previous posting.

Dr. Louis H. Ferland
Centre de Recherche, Hotel-Dieu de Montreal
Dept de Nutrition, Universite de Montreal
Phone: (514) 843-2757     FAX: (514) 843-2719

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