We describe a technology, the NanoString nCounter gene expression system, which captures and counts individual mRNA transcripts. Advantages over existing platforms include direct measurement of mRNA expression levels without enzymatic reactions or bias, sensitivity coupled with high multiplex capability, and digital readout. Experiments performed on 509 human genes yielded a replicate correlation coefficient of 0.999, a detection limit between 0.1 fM and 0.5 fM, and a linear dynamic range of over 500-fold. Comparison of the NanoString nCounter gene expression system with microarrays and TaqMan PCR demonstrated that the nCounter system is more sensitive than microarrays and similar in sensitivity to real-time PCR. Finally, a comparison of transcript levels for 21 genes across seven samples measured by the nCounter system and SYBR Green real-time PCR demonstrated similar patterns of gene expression at all transcript levels.