Abstract A convenient small scale synthesis has been developed for obtaining peptide nucleic acid oligomers (PNAs). PNAs have been conjugated to a protein, staphylococcal nuclease, through disulfide exchange between a cysteine at the 3′-(carboxy) end of the PNA and an introduced cysteine on the surface of the nuclease. Site specific DNA cleavage by the attached nuclease has been used to examine the Watson-Crick hybridization of the PNAs to duplex DNA. Substantial affinity cleavage occurred when target sites contained inverted repeats which have the potential to form non B-DNA structures such as cruciforms. No affinity cleavage was observed at a site lacking apparent potential for non B-DNA structures. These results indicate that the Watson-Crick hybridization of PNAs to duplex DNA by strand displacement is favored by the presence of potential alternative secondary structures within the target sequence.