Transcriptome study in neurodegenerative disease has advanced considerably in the past 5 years. Increasing scientific rigour and improved analytical tools have led to more-reproducible data. Many transcriptome analysis platforms assay the expression of the entire genome, enabling a complete biological context to be captured. Gene expression profiling (GEP) is, therefore, uniquely placed to discover pathways of disease pathogenesis, potential therapeutic targets, and biomarkers. This Review summarizes microarray human GEP studies in the common neurodegenerative diseases amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson disease (PD) and Alzheimer disease (AD). Several interesting reports have compared pathological gene expression in different patient groups, disease stages and anatomical areas. In all three diseases, GEP has revealed dysregulation of genes related to neuroinflammation. In ALS and PD, gene expression related to RNA splicing and protein turnover is disrupted, and several studies in ALS support involvement of the cytoskeleton. GEP studies have implicated the ubiquitin-proteasome system in PD pathogenesis, and have provided evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction in PD and AD. Lastly, in AD, a possible role for dysregulation of intracellular signalling pathways, including calcium signalling, has been highlighted. This Review also provides a discussion of methodological considerations in microarray sample preparation and data analysis.