Hexitol nucleic acid (HNA) is a new steric blocking oligonucleotide, hybridizing sequence selectively with RNA. The biological activity of HNA was evaluated in an in vitro translation arrest system targeting Ha-ras mRNA and in a cellular system targeting intracellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) expression. HNA very efficiently and selectively inhibited Ha-ras mRNA translation (IC(50) of 50 nM) when targeted at the translation initiation region. When targeting at the 12th codon region, a gap-mer approach was needed to inhibit mRNA translation. Similarly, HNA inhibited ICAM-1 expression in keratinocytes when targeting at codon sequences. In this test system, HNA is less active but more selective than phosphorothioates, but needs lipofection to become active in keratinocytes. This new steric blocker may be an efficient antisense agent providing that enough material can be brought into cells.