Toxic effects of both essential and non-essential heavy metals are well documented in plants. Very little is known, however, about their modes of toxicity, about tolerance mechanisms and the signalling cascades involved in mediating transcriptional responses to toxic metal excess. We analysed transcriptome changes upon Cd2+ and Cu2+ exposure in roots of Arabidopsis thaliana and the Cd2+-hypertolerant metallophyte Arabidopsis halleri. Particularly, three categories of genes were identified with the help of this comparative approach: (1) common responses, which might indicate stable and functionally relevant changes conserved across plant species; (2) metallophyte-specific responses as well as transcripts differentially regulated between the two species, representing candidate genes for Cd2+ hypertolerance; and (3) those specifically responsive to Cd2+ and therefore indicative of toxicity mechanisms or potentially involved in signalling cascades. Our data define, for instance, Arabidopsis core responses to Cd2+ and Cu2+. In addition, they suggest that Cd2+ exposure very rapidly results in apparent Zn deficiency, and they show the existence of highly specific Cd2+ responses and distinct signalling cascades. Array results were independently confirmed by real-time quantitative PCR, thereby further validating cross-species transcriptome analysis with oligonucleotide microarrays.