In recent publications, oligonucleotides joined by 2',5'-linkages were found to bind to complementary single-stranded RNA but to bind weakly, or not at all, to single-stranded DNA [e.g., P. A. Giannaris and M. J. Damha (1993) Nucleic Acids Res. 21, 4742-4749]. In this work, the biochemical and physicochemical properties of 2',5'-linked oligoribonucleotides containing mixed sequences of the four nucleobases (A, G, C, and U) were evaluated. CD spectra of RNA:2', 5'-RNA duplexes were compared with the spectra of DNA:DNA, RNA:RNA, and DNA:RNA duplexes of the same base sequence. The CD results indicated that the RNA:2',5'-RNA duplex structure more closely resembles the structure of the RNA:DNA hybrid, being more A-form than B-form in character. The melting temperature (Tm) values of the backbone-modified duplexes were compared with the Tm values of the unmodified duplexes. The order of thermal stability was RNA:RNA > DNA:DNA approximately RNA:DNA approximately DNA:RNA > RNA:2',5'-RNA > 2',5'-RNA:2',5'-RNA >> DNA:2',5'-RNA (undetected). RNA:2',5'-RNA duplexes are not substrates of the enzyme RNase H (Escherichia coli, or HIV-1 reverse transcriptase), but they can inhibit the RNase H-mediated cleavage of a natural DNA:RNA substrate. Structural models that are consistent with the selective association properties of 2',5'-linked oligonucleotides are discussed.