Identification of key amino acids is required for development of efficient cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) and has tremendous implications in medicine. Extensive research work has enlightened us about the importance of two amino acids, arginine and tryptophan, in cell penetration. Here, we present a top-down approach to show how spatial positions of two tryptophans regulate the cellular entry and nuclear localization. This enables us to develop short, non-toxic tetrapeptides with excellent potential for cell penetration and nuclear localization. Among them, Glu-Thr-Trp-Trp (ETWW) emerges as the most promising. Results suggest that it enters into cancer cells following an endocytic pathway and binds at the major groove of nuclear DNA, where successive tryptophan plays major role. We subsequently show that it is not a P-glycoprotein substrate and is non-toxic to PC12-derived neurons, suggesting its excellent potential as a CPP. Furthermore, its potential as a CPP is validated in multi-cellular 3D cell culture (spheroid) and in in vivo mice model. This study provides major fundamental insights about the positional importance of tryptophan and opens new avenues toward the development of next-generation CPPs and major-groove-specific anticancer drugs. © 2017 American Chemical Society.