Antisense oligonucleotides have been used for more than a decade to downregulate gene expression. Phosphodiester oligonucleotides are nuclease sensitive, and the more nuclease-resistant phosphorothioate oligonucleotides are now in common use in the laboratory and have entered clinical trials. However, these molecules are highly bioactive and may inhibit gene expression by more than one mechanism. Although some dramatic successes have been demonstrated, it can still be difficult to properly interpret experimental data derived from the use of this class of oligonucleotide. This review discusses some of these issues with particular reference to a major area of current interest--inhibition of bcl-2 expression in tumor cells.