Triplex-forming oligonucleotides (TFO) are designed to bind sequence specifically to their DNA targets without a significant disturbance of the double helix. They have been proposed to deliver DNA-reactive agents to specific DNA sequences for gene targeting applications. We suggested the use of 125I-labeled TFO for delivery of the energy of radioiodine decay to specific genes. This approach is called antigene radiotherapy. Here we demonstrate the ability of 125I-labeled TFO to produce sequence-specific breaks within a target in the human mdrl gene in cultured cells. TFO and TFO conjugated with a nuclear localization signal peptide (NLS) were delivered into cells using cationic liposomes. This was done either alone or in the presence of an excess of a "ballast" oligonucleotide with an unrelated sequence. In all cases, nuclear localization of TFO and survival of the cells after treatment has been confirmed. Breaks in the gene target were analyzed by restriction enzyme digestion of the DNA recovered from the TFO-treated cells followed by Southern hybridization with DNA probes flanking the target sequence. We have found that TFO/NLS conjugates cleave the target in a concentration-dependent manner regardless of the presence of the "ballast" oligonucleotide. In contrast, TFO without NLS cleaved the target only in the presence of an excess of the "ballast." We hypothesize that TFO and TFO/NLS are delivered into the nucleus by different pathways. These results provide a new insight into the mechanism of intracellular transport of oligonucleotides and open new avenues for improvement of the efficacy of antigene therapies.