Plasmid DNA directing transcription of the noncoding (anti-sense) DNA strand can specifically inhibit the expression of several test genes as well as normal, endogenous genes. The anti-sense plasmid constructions can be introduced into eukaryotic cells by transfection or microinjection and function in both transient and stable transformation assays. Anti-sense transcripts complementary to as little as 52 bases of 5' untranslated target gene mRNA specifically suppress gene activity as well as, or more efficiently than, anti-sense transcripts directed against the protein coding domain alone. Conditional anti-sense inhibition is accomplished with the use of hormone-inducible promoter sequences. Suppression of endogenous actin gene activity by anti-sense RNA is detected as a decrease in growth rate and as a reduction in the number of actin microfilament cables. These observations suggest that anti-sense RNA may be generally useful for suppressing the expression of specific genes in vivo and may be a potential molecular alternative to classical genetic analysis.