White blood cells (WBCs) express tens of thousands of genes, whose expression levels are modified by genetic and external factors. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of acute exercise on gene expression profiles (GEPs) of WBCs and to identify suitable genes that may serve as surrogate markers for monitoring exercise and training load. Five male participants performed an exhaustive treadmill test (ET) at 80% of their maximal O(2) uptake (Vo(2 max)) and a moderate treadmill test (MT) at 60% Vo(2 max) for exactly the same time approximately 2 wk later. WBCs were isolated by the erythrocyte lysis method. GEPs were measured using the Affymetrix GeneChip technology. After scaling, normalization, and filtering, groupwise comparisons of gene expression intensities were performed, and several measurements were validated by real-time PCR. We found 450 genes upregulated and 150 downregulated (>1.5-fold change; ANOVA with Benjamini-Hochberg correction, P < 0.05) after ET that were closely associated with the gene ontology lists "response to stress" and "inflammatory response". Analysis of mean expression levels after MT showed that the extent of up- and downregulation was workload dependent. The genes for the stress (heat shock) proteins HSPA1A and HSPH1 and for the matrix metalloproteinase MMP-9 showed the most prominent increases, whereas the YES1 oncogene (YES1) and CD160 (BY55) were most strongly reduced. Despite different methodological approaches used, the consistency of our results with the expression data of another study (Connolly PH, Caiozzo VJ, Zaldivar F, Nemet D, Larson J, Hung SP, Heck JD, Hatfield GW, Cooper DM. J Appl Physiol 97: 1461-1469, 2004) suggests that expression fingerprints are useful tools for monitoring exercise and training loads and thereby help to avoid training-associated health risks.