An understanding of the relationship between gene expression, protein expression and the influences of genetic responses upon gene function is vital before we can understand the complexity of genomes. Traditional methods for the study of gene expression are limited to studying small groups of genes at a time and a source of pure starting material has been difficult to obtain. Recent technological advances have enabled large numbers of genes, from specific cell populations, to be studied in a single experiment. Laser capture microdissection (LCM) and microarray technology are providing the next revolution in the study of gene expression. LCM-based molecular analysis of histopathological lesions can be applied to any disease process that is accessible through tissue sampling. Examples include: (i) mapping the field of genetic changes associated with oxidative stress; (ii) analysis of gene expression patterns in atherosclerotic tissues, sites of inflammation and Alzheimer's disease plaques; (iii) infectious micro-organism diagnosis; and (iv) typing of cells within disease foci. Microarray hybridisation glass chips spotted with sets of genes can then be used to obtain a molecular fingerprint of gene expression in the microdissected cells. The variation of expressed genes or alterations in the cellular DNA that correlate with a particular disease state can be compared within or between individual samples. The identification of gene expression patterns may provide vital information for the understanding of the disease process and may contribute to diagnostic decisions and therapies tailored to the individual patient. Molecules found to be associated with defined pathological lesions may provide clues about new therapeutic targets in the future.