To understand the response of cancer cells to anticancer drugs at the gene expression level, we examined the gene expression changes in response to five anticancer drugs, 5-fluorouracil, cytarabine, cisplatin, paclitaxel, and cytochalasin D in NCI-H460 human lung cancer cells. Of the five drugs, 5-fluorouracil had the most distinctive gene expression signature. By clustering genes whose expression changed significantly, we identified three clusters with unique gene expression patterns. The first cluster reflected the up-regulation of gene expression by cisplatin, and included genes involved in cell death and DNA repair. The second cluster pointed to a general reduction of gene expression by most of the anticancer drugs tested. A number of genes in this cluster are involved in signal transduction that is important for communication between cells and reception of extracellular signals. The last cluster represented reduced gene expression in response to 5-fluorouracil, the genes involved being implicated in DNA metabolism, the cell cycle, and RNA processing. Since the gene expression signature of 5-fluorouracil was unique, we investigated it in more detail. Significance analysis of microarray data (SAM) identified 808 genes whose expression was significantly altered by 5-fluorouracil. Among the up-regulated genes, those affecting apoptosis were the most noteworthy. The down-regulated genes were mainly associated with transcription-and translation-related processes which are known targets of 5-fluorouracil. These results suggest that the gene expression signature of an anticancer drug is closely related to its physiological action and the response of caner cells.