Direct quantitative comparisons of cellular uptake across a wide variety of analogs and cell types are necessary for the design of oligonucleotide diagnostic and therapeutic applications. This work reports quantitative cellular uptake and nuclear localization of [14C]oligodeoxynucleoside phosphorothioates (PS), 3'-alkylamino oligodeoxynucleoside phosphodiesters (PO-NH2), 2'-O-methyl oligoribonucleoside phosphodiesters (2OM), peptide nucleic acids (PNA), and oligodeoxynucleoside methylphosphonates (MP) in several transformed or immortalized cell lines. All analogs demonstrated active cellular uptake in that intracellular concentrations greatly exceeded the extracellular 1 microM concentration within 1-3 hr. However, by 9-24 hr, cellular accumulations of PS exceeded those of PO-NH2 and 2OM by 3- to 5-fold, PNA by 6- to 7-fold, and MP by 8- to 10-fold. Similar results were observed in two transformed cell lines, HL-60 leukocytes and H-ras transformed fibroblasts, using three different heterogeneous sequences. H-ras and IGF-1R transformed fibroblasts had a 2- to 5-fold higher uptake of all analogs than non-transformed immortalized fibroblasts. Nuclear levels of the PO-NH2, PS, and MP analogs were approximately 25% of total cellular uptake, while nuclear percentages of 2OM and PNA were less than 20%, suggesting some differences in nuclear localization among the analogs. These observations provide a direct quantitative comparison of cellular uptake as a function of oligonucleotide modification, and imply that transformation enhances cellular uptake. From the perspective of therapy and diagnosis, clear trade-offs were apparent between efficiency of uptake on the one hand, and nuclease resistance and hybridization strength on the other.