The subcellular fate and activity in inhibiting the hepatitis B virus of free and N-(2-hydroxypropyl)methacrylamide (HPMA) copolymer-phosphorothioate oligonucleotides were studied. Their internalization and subcellular fate were monitored with confocal microscopy. A fraction of the internalized free oligonucleotides escaped into the cytoplasm and nucleus of Hep G2 cells but were not active antiviral agents. Covalently attaching the oligonucleotides to the HPMA copolymers via nondegradable dipeptide GG spacers resulted in sequestering the oligonucleotides in vesicles after internalization. Conjugation of the oligonucleotides to an HPMA copolymer via a lysosomally cleavable tetrapeptide GFLG spacer resulted in release of the oligonucleotide in the lysosome and subsequent translocation into the cytoplasm and nucleus of the cells. The HPMA copolymer-oligonucleotide conjugate possessed antiviral activity, indicating that phosphorothioate oligonucleotides released from the carrier in the lysosome were able to escape into the cytoplasm and nucleus and remain active. The Hep G2 cells appeared to actively internalize the phosphorothioate oligonucleotides as oligonucleotide-HPMA copolymer conjugates were internalized to a greater extent than unconjugated polymers.