Renal cell carcinoma comprises several histological types with different clinical behavior. Accurate pathological characterization is important in the clinical management of these tumors. We describe gene expression profiles in 41 renal tumors determined by using DNA microarrays containing 22,648 unique cDNAs representing 17,083 different UniGene Clusters, including 7230 characterized human genes. Differences in the patterns of gene expression among the different tumor types were readily apparent; hierarchical cluster analysis of the tumor samples segregated histologically distinct tumor types solely based on their gene expression patterns. Conventional renal cell carcinomas with clear cells showed a highly distinctive pattern of gene expression. Papillary carcinomas formed a tightly clustered group, as did tumors arising from the distal nephron and the normal kidney samples. Surprisingly, conventional renal cell carcinomas with granular cytoplasm were heterogeneous, and did not resemble any of the conventional carcinomas with clear cytoplasm in their pattern of gene expression. Characterization of renal cell carcinomas based on gene expression patterns provides a revised classification of these tumors and has the potential to supply significant biological and clinical insights.