Human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have generated enormous interest due to their ability to self-renew and produce many different cell types. In conjunction with microarray technology, human ESCs provide a powerful tool for employing a systems-based approach to deciphering the molecular mechanisms that control pluripotency and early development. Recent work has focused on defining “stemness” and pluripotency based on different experimental and analytical approaches in both mouse and human ESCs. Using a mixed linear model statistical approach, we report a stringent direct comparison between data sets obtained from two human ESCs (BG01 and H1) in order to obtain a list of genes that are enriched in ESCs. In addition, we used another pluripotent population derived from BG01 ESCs to obtain a list of genes that we consider important to the maintenance of pluripotency. A total of 133 genes overlapped between the three pluripotent populations. A majority of the 133 genes were classified under the key functional categories of cell-cycle regulation, signaling, and regulation of transcription. Key genes expressed were Oct4, Sox2, LeftyA, and Fgf2. Also found to be enriched in all three populations is FLJ10713, a gene encoding a hypothetical protein of unknown function that has been shown in earlier studies to possess a homolog in mouse ESCs and also to cluster tightly with Oct4 in human ESCs. Although there were many genes unique to each pluripotent population, they shared similarities based on functional ontologies that define pluripotency. The significance of our studies underscores the need for direct comparison of stem cell populations that share biological similarities using uniform stringent analytical approaches, in order to better define pluripotency. Our findings have important implications for the maintenance of pluripotency and in developing directed differentiation strategies for various regenerative applications. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.