Antisense is the non-coding DNA strand of a gene. A cell uses antisense DNA strand as a template for producing messenger RNA (mRNA) that directs the synthesis of a protein. Antisense can also refer to a method for silencing genes. To silence a target gene, a second gene is introduced that produces an mRNA complementary to that produced from the target gene. These two mRNAs can interact to form a double-stranded structure that cannot be used to direct protein synthesis.
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Antisense is a term that's used to describe one of the two strands of DNA, or actually in some cases also RNA. If you imagine that there's a directional way that you read information from what's called the five prime, or the front end, to the three prime, or the back end, that's unidirectional. You can't read DNA or RNA in both directions, and so there's a sense strand for DNA, and then there's a second strand of DNA which is called the antisense strand. The sense strand has the information that would be readable on the RNA, and that's called the coding side. The antisense is the non-coding strand, but ironically, when you're making RNA, the proteins that are involved in making RNA read the antisense strand in order to create a sense strand for the mRNA. There's a second aspect of antisense, which is a fairly new discovery, called antisense RNA. These are RNAs that read in the opposite direction of the coding strand, and they actually bind to the coding strand of mRNAs and either target them for destruction or prevent them from being expressed. It's sort of a new way of gene regulation that's recently been developed.
Shawn Burgess, Ph.D.
Senior Investigator, Genome Technology Branch; Head, Developmental Genomics Section
Dr. Burgess's laboratory studies developmental processes and their relation to human genetic disease. His group employs a variety of modern molecular biology methods to identify and functionally characterize novel developmental genes involved in organogenesis of the ear and maintenance of stem cell populations. Before coming to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), Dr. Burgess was part of a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that pioneered the use of pseudotyped retroviruses for mutagenesis in zebrafish. This technology represented a major breakthrough in the ability to quickly identify genes important in the early development of vertebrates.