Identifying the various gene expression response patterns is a challenging issue in expression microarray time-course experiments. Due to heterogeneity in the regulatory reaction among thousands of genes tested, it is impossible to manually characterize a parametric form for each of the time-course pattern in a gene by gene manner. We introduce a growth curve model with fractional polynomials to automatically capture the various time-dependent expression patterns and meanwhile efficiently handle missing values due to incomplete observations. For each gene, our procedure compares the performances among fractional polynomial models with power terms from a set of fixed values that offer a wide range of curve shapes and suggests a best fitting model. After a limited simulation study, the model has been applied to our human in vivo irritated epidermis data with missing observations to investigate time-dependent transcriptional responses to a chemical irritant. Our method was able to identify the various nonlinear time-course expression trajectories. The integration of growth curves with fractional polynomials provides a flexible way to model different time-course patterns together with model selection and significant gene identification strategies that can be applied in microarray-based time-course gene expression experiments with missing observations.