Host gene expression changes in the early response to potato virus YNTN interaction were compared in two differently sensitive potato cultivars: the resistant cultivar Santé and the sensitive cultivar Igor. Hybridization of potato TIGR cDNA microarrays allowed us to monitor the expression of approximately 10 000 genes simultaneously at 0.5 and 12 h post-inoculation (hpi). Microarray data, analysed by statistics and data mining, were complemented by subtraction library construction and sequence analysis to validate the findings. The expression profiles of the two cultivars were similar and faint at 0.5 hpi, but they differed substantially at 12 hpi. Although, at 0.5 hpi, cv. Santé responded by the differential expression of a greater number of genes, at 12 hpi the number was higher in cv. Igor. The majority of genes in this cultivar were down-regulated at 12 hpi, indicating a host gene shut-off. Suites of genes that exhibited altered transcript abundance in response to the virus were identified, and included genes involved in the processes of photosynthesis, perception, signalling and defence responses. The expression of the considerable number of genes associated with photosynthesis was surprisingly up-regulated as early as 0.5 hpi and down-regulated at 12 hpi in both cultivars. The expression of genes involved in perception and signalling was increased in the sensitive cultivar at 12 hpi. By contrast, a simultaneous strong defence response at the transcriptional level was evident in the resistant cultivar, as shown by the up-regulation of genes involved in brassinosteroid, polyamine and secondary metabolite biosynthesis, and of genes coding for pathogenesis-related proteins.