Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is common worldwide and is associated with a poor rate of survival. Identification of new markers and therapeutic targets, and understanding the complex transformation process, will require a comprehensive description of genome expression, that can only be achieved by combining different methodologies. We report here the HNSCC transcriptome that was determined by exhaustive differential display (DD) analysis coupled with validation by different methods on the same patient samples. The resulting 820 nonredundant sequences were analysed by high throughput bioinformatics analysis. Human proteins were identified for 73% (596) of the DD sequences. A large proportion (>50%) of the remaining unassigned sequences match ESTs (expressed sequence tags) from human tumours. For the functionally annotated proteins, there is significant enrichment for relevant biological processes, including cell motility, protein biosynthesis, stress and immune responses, cell death, cell cycle, cell proliferation and/or maintenance and transport. Three of the novel proteins (TMEM16A, PHLDB2 and ARHGAP21) were analysed further to show that they have the potential to be developed as therapeutic targets.