The fungal pathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum infects a broad range of dicotyledonous plant species and causes stem rot in Brassica napus. To elucidate the mechanisms underlying the defence response, the patterns of gene expression in the partially resistant B. napus cultivar ZhongYou 821 (ZY821) and the susceptible cultivar Westar were studied using a B. napus oligonucleotide microarray. Although maximum differential gene expression was observed at 48 h post-inoculation (hpi) in both cultivars, increased transcript levels were detected in cv. ZY821 at the earlier stages of infection (6–12 hpi) for many genes, including those encoding defence-associated proteins, such as chitinases, glucanases, osmotins and lectins, as well as genes encoding transcription factors belonging to the zinc finger, WRKY, APETALA2 (AP2) and MYB classes. In both cultivars, genes encoding enzymes involved in jasmonic acid, ethylene and auxin synthesis were induced, as were those for gibberellin degradation. In addition, changes in the expression of genes encoding enzymes involved in carbohydrate and energy metabolism appeared to be directed towards shuttling carbon reserves to the tricarboxylic acid cycle and generating reactive oxygen species. Transcripts from genes encoding enzymes involved in glucosinolate and phenylpropanoid biosynthesis were highly elevated in both cultivars, suggesting that secondary metabolites are also components of the response to S. sclerotiorum in B. napus.