The identity and abundance of mRNA species within a cell dictate, to a large extent, the biological potential of that cell. Although posttranscriptional mechanisms modify protein expression in critical ways, cellular differentiation requires key changes in gene transcription, as evidenced by the potent phenotypes that result from disruption of transcription factor genes in mice. It is now possible to assess the mRNA profile of a cell globally using recently developed genomics techniques. This review focuses on the potential of cDNA microarrays to define gene expression in lymphoid cells, a field which is in its infancy. Examples of cellular activation genes and cytokine inducible genes discovered using this technology are presented but these represent only a taste of the fruit that this new technology will ultimately bear. Gene expression profiles should provide essential new insights into lymphocyte differentiation and activation, the pathogenesis of immune disorders, and the molecular abnormalities in lymphoid malignancies.