RNA quantitation is becoming increasingly important in basic, pharmaceutical, and clinical research. For example, quantitation of viral RNAs can predict disease progression and therapeutic efficacy. Likewise, gene expression analysis of diseased versus normal, or untreated versus treated, tissue can identify relevant biological responses or assess the effects of pharmacological agents. As the focus of the Human Genome Project moves toward gene expression analysis, the field will require a flexible RNA analysis technology that can quantitatively monitor multiple forms of alternatively transcribed and/or processed RNAs (refs 3,4). We have applied the principles of invasive cleavage and engineered an improved 5'-nuclease to develop an isothermal, fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based signal amplification method for detecting RNA in both total RNA and cell lysate samples. This detection format, termed the RNA invasive cleavage assay, obviates the need for target amplification or additional enzymatic signal enhancement. In this report, we describe the assay and present data demonstrating its capabilities for sensitive (<100 copies per reaction), specific (discrimination of 95% homologous sequences, 1 in > or =20,000), and quantitative (1.2-fold changes in RNA levels) detection of unamplified RNA in both single- and biplex-reaction formats.