beta-Actin mRNA is localized near the leading edge in several cell types where actin polymerization is actively promoting forward protrusion. The localization of the beta-actin mRNA near the leading edge is facilitated by a short sequence in the 3'UTR (untranslated region), the 'zipcode'. Localization of the mRNA at this region is important physiologically. Treatment of chicken embryo fibroblasts with antisense oligonucleotides complementary to the localization sequence (zipcode) in the 3'UTR leads to delocalization of beta-actin mRNA, alteration of cell phenotype and a decrease in cell motility. The dynamic image analysis system (DIAS) used to quantify movement of cells in the presence of sense and antisense oligonucleotides to the zipcode showed that net pathlength and average speed of antisense-treated cells were significantly lower than in sense-treated cells. This suggests that a decrease in persistence of direction of movement and not in velocity results from treatment of cells with zipcode-directed antisense oligonucleotides. We postulate that delocalization of beta-actin mRNA results in delocalization of nucleation sites and beta-actin protein from the leading edge followed by loss of cell polarity and directional movement. Hence the physiological consequences of beta-actin mRNA delocalization affect the stability of the cell phenotype.