Survivin, an inhibitor of apoptosis protein, deserves attention as a selective target for cancer therapy because it lacks expression in differentiated adult tissues but is expressed in a variety of human tumors. We designed 20-mer phosphorothioate antisense oligonucleotides targeting different regions of survivin mRNA and investigated their ability to down-regulate survivin mRNA and induce apoptosis in the lung adenocarcinoma cell line A549. Oligonucleotide 4003, which targets nucleotides 23-251 of survivin mRNA, was identified as the most potent compound. As measured by real-time PCR, 4003 down-regulated survivin mRNA in a dose-dependent manner with an IC50 of 200 nM. Its maximum effect was achieved at a concentration of 400 nM, at which mRNA was down-regulated by 70%. As revealed by increased caspase-3-like protease activity, nuclear condensation and fragmentation, and trypan blue uptake, treatment with 4003 induced apoptosis and sensitized tumor cells to the chemotherapeutic agent etoposide. Oligonucleotide 4003 did not reduce the viability of normal blood leukocytes with marginal levels of survivin mRNA.