Gene-expression profiling is a powerful tool for the discovery of molecular fingerprints that underlie human disease. Microarray technologies allow the analysis of messenger RNA transcript levels for every gene in the genome. However, gene-expression profiling is best viewed as part of a pipeline that extends from sample collection through clinical application. Key genes and pathways identified by microarray profiling should be validated in independent sample sets and with alternative technologies. Analysis of relevant signaling pathways at the protein level is an important step towards understanding the functional consequences of aberrant gene expression. Peripheral blood is a convenient and rich source of potential biomarkers, but surveying purified cell populations and target tissues can also enhance our understanding of disease states. In rheumatic disease, probing the transcriptome of circulating immune cells has shed light on mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of complex diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus. As these discoveries advance through the pipeline, a variety of clinical applications are on the horizon, including the use of molecular fingerprints to aid in diagnosis and prognosis, improved use of existing therapies, and the development of drugs that target relevant genes and pathways.
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