For further characterization of the hybridization properties of peptide nucleic acids (PNAs), the thermodynamics of hybridization of mixed sequence PNA-DNA duplexes have been studied. We have characterized the binding of PNA to DNA in terms of binding affinity (perfectly matched duplexes) and sequence specificity of binding (singly mismatched duplexes) using mainly absorption hypochromicity melting curves and isothermal titration calorimetry. For perfectly sequence-matched duplexes of varying lengths (6-20 bp), the average free energy of binding (DeltaG degrees ) was determined to be -6.5+/-0.3 kJ mol(-1) bp(-1), corresponding to a microscopic binding constant of about 14 M(-1) bp(-1). A variety of single mismatches were introduced in 9- and 12-mer PNA-DNA duplexes. Melting temperatures (T(m)) of 9- and 12-mer PNA-DNA duplexes with a single mismatch dropped typically 15-20 degrees C relative to that of the perfectly matched sequence with a corresponding free energy penalty of about 15 kJ mol(-1) bp(-1). The average cost of a single mismatch is therefore estimated to be on the order of or larger than the gain of two matched base pairs, resulting in an apparent binding constant of only 0.02 M(-1) per mismatch. The impact of a mismatch was found to be dependent on the neighboring base pairs. To a first approximation, increasing the stability of the surrounding region, i.e., the distribution of A.T and G.C base pairs, decreases the effect of the introduced mismatch.