High and moderate intensity endurance exercise alters gene expression in human white blood cells (WBCs), but the understanding of how this effect occurs is limited. To increase our knowledge of the nature of this process, we investigated the effects of passing the anaerobic threshold (AnT) on the gene expression profile in WBCs of athletes. Nineteen highly trained skiers participated in a treadmill test with an incremental step protocol until exhaustion (ramp test to exhaustion, RTE). The average total time to exhaustion was 14:40 min and time after AnT was 4:50 min. Two weeks later, seven of these skiers participated in a moderate treadmill test (MT) at 80% peak O(2) uptake for 30 min, which was slightly below their AnTs. Blood samples were obtained before and immediately after both tests. RTE was associated with substantially greater leukocytosis and acidosis than MT. Gene expression in WBCs was measured using whole genome microarray expression analysis before and immediately after each test. A total of 310 upregulated genes were found after RTE, and 69 genes after MT of which 64 were identical to RTE. Both tests influenced a variety of known gene pathways related to inflammation, stress response, signal transduction and apoptosis. A large group of differentially expressed previously unknown small nucleolar RNA and small Cajal body RNA was found. In conclusion, a 15-min test to exhaustion was associated with substantially greater changes of gene expression than a 30-min test just below the AnT.