Motivation: Target-specific hybridization depends on oligo-probe characteristics that improve hybridization specificity and minimize genome-wide cross-hybridization. Interplay between specific hybridization and genome-wide cross-hybridization has been insufficiently studied, despite its crucial role in efficient probe design and in data analysis.

Results: In this study, we defined hybridization specificity as a ratio between oligo target-specific hybridization and oligo genome-wide cross-hybridization. A microarray database, derived from the Genomic Comparison Hybridization (GCH) experiment and performed using the Affymetrix platform, contains two different types of probes. The first type of oligo-probes does not have a specific target on the genome and their hybridization signals are derived from genome-wide cross-hybridization alone. The second type includes oligonucleotides that have a specific target on the genomic DNA and their signals are derived from specific and cross-hybridization components combined together in a total signal. A comparative analysis of hybridization specificity of oligo-probes, as well as their nucleotide sequences and thermodynamic features was performed on the database. The comparison has revealed that hybridization specificity was negatively affected by low stability of the fully-paired oligo-target duplex, stable probe self-folding, G-rich content, including GGG motifs, low sequence complexity and nucleotide composition symmetry.

Conclusion: Filtering out the probes with defined ‘negative’ characteristics significantly increases specific hybridization and dramatically decreasing genome-wide cross-hybridization. Selected oligo-probes have two times higher hybridization specificity on average, compared to the probes that were filtered from the analysis by applying suggested cutoff thresholds to the described parameters. A new approach for efficient oligo-probe design is described in our study.

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Supplementary information:  Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.