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We have used RNase H to study both the rates of oligonucleotide hybridization and dissociation at near-physiological conditions. We have studied the Effects of oligonucleotide length, mismatch, and chemical modifications on oligonucleotide association and dissociation with RNA. Dissociation results were compared with standard thermal melting curves to compare relative stabilities evaluated by the two techniques. Although generally the two techniques correlate for the compounds evaluated, we found several instances where the thermal melting curves failed to reflect the relative stability of different oligonucleotides at 37 degrees C using near-physiological conditions. This study suggests that direct measurement of hybridization and dissociation of an oligomer with RNA more accurately assesses the complicated kinetic scheme at 37 degrees C using near-physiological conditions than thermal melting curves would predict.