Studies of gene expression related to aging of skeletal muscle have included few subjects or a limited number of genes. We conducted the present study to produce more comprehensive gene expression profiles. RNA was extracted from vastus lateralis biopsies obtained from healthy young (21-27 yr old, n = 8) and older men (67-75 yr old, n = 8) and was analyzed with high-density oligonucleotide arrays. Of the approximately 44,000 probe sets on the arrays, approximately 18,000 yielded adequate signals for statistical analysis. There were approximately 700 probe sets for which t-tests or rank sum tests indicated a difference (P <or= 0.01) in mean expression between young and old and for which the estimated false discovery rate was <10%. Most of these differences were less than 1.5-fold in magnitude. Genes that encode proteins involved in energy metabolism and mitochondrial protein synthesis were expressed at a lower level in older muscle. Genes encoding metallothioneins, high-mobility-group proteins, heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins and other RNA binding/processing proteins, and components of the ubiquitin-proteasome proteolytic pathway were expressed at higher levels in older muscle. Expression of numerous genes involved with stress responses, hormone/cytokine/growth factor signaling, control of the cell cycle and apoptosis, and transcriptional regulation appeared to be affected by aging. More transcripts were detected in older muscle, suggesting dedifferentiation, an increased number of splice variants, or increased cellular heterogeneity. We conclude that in human skeletal muscle the expression of many genes tends to increase or decrease between the third and seventh decades. The changes are modest when averaged over all of the cells in the tissue.