Tumorigenesis is a complex process involving multiple genes. As a step toward understanding the complicated changes between normal and malignant cells, this report focused on gene expression profile variations among normal and abnormal esophageal epithelium tissues. The cDNA microarray approach was used to investigate gene expression profiles of 5 different stages during initiation and progression of esophageal cancer. According to pathological characteristics, these 5 stages were normal, dysplasia I (mild dysplasia), dysplasia II (moderate dysplasia), carcinoma in situ (CIS) and squamous cell carcinoma of esophagus (SCC). Comparing and analyzing those gene expression profiles, we observed that the expression levels of many genes changed in dysplasia I and some known tumor-related genes were over-expressed or under-expressed in all 4 abnormal stages. Using principle component analysis we identified a set of genes that may play an important role in tumor development. Hybridization data were confirmed by semi-quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry. These results suggest that cDNA microarray technology is a useful tool to discover genes frequently involved in esophageal neoplasia and provides novel clues to diagnosis, early detection and intervention of SCC. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.