Neuroadaptations that participate in the ontogeny of alcohol dependence are likely a result of altered gene expression in various brain regions. The present study investigated brain region-specific changes in the pattern and magnitude of gene expression immediately following chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) exposure and 8 hours following final ethanol exposure [i.e. early withdrawal (EWD)]. High-density oligonucleotide microarrays (Affymetrix 430A 2.0, Affymetrix, Santa Clara, CA, USA) and bioinformatics analysis were used to characterize gene expression and function in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), hippocampus (HPC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) of C57BL/6J mice (Jackson Laboratories, Bar Harbor, ME, USA). Gene expression levels were determined using gene chip robust multi-array average followed by statistical analysis of microarrays and validated by quantitative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and Western blot analysis. Results indicated that immediately following CIE exposure, changes in gene expression were strikingly greater in the PFC (284 genes) compared with the HPC (16 genes) and NAc (32 genes). Bioinformatics analysis revealed that most of the transcriptionally responsive genes in the PFC were involved in Ras/MAPK signaling, notch signaling or ubiquitination. In contrast, during EWD, changes in gene expression were greatest in the HPC (139 genes) compared with the PFC (four genes) and NAc (eight genes). The most transcriptionally responsive genes in the HPC were involved in mRNA processing or actin dynamics. Of the few genes detected in the NAc, the most representatives were involved in circadian rhythms. Overall, these findings indicate that brain region-specific and time-dependent neuroadaptive alterations in gene expression play an integral role in the development of alcohol dependence and withdrawal.