The application of genome-wide expression analysis to a large-scale, multicentered program in critically ill patients poses a number of theoretical and technical challenges. We describe here an analytical and organizational approach to a systematic evaluation of the variance associated with genome-wide expression analysis specifically tailored to study human disease. We analyzed sources of variance in genome-wide expression analyses performed with commercial oligonucleotide arrays. In addition, variance in gene expression in human blood leukocytes caused by repeated sampling in the same subject, among different healthy subjects, among different leukocyte subpopulations, and the effect of traumatic injury, were also explored. We report that analytical variance caused by sample processing was acceptably small. Blood leukocyte gene expression in the same individual over a 24-h period was remarkably constant. In contrast, genome-wide expression varied significantly among different subjects and leukocyte subpopulations. Expectedly, traumatic injury induced dramatic changes in apparent gene expression that were greater in magnitude than the analytical noise and interindividual variance. We demonstrate that the development of a nation-wide program for gene expression analysis with careful attention to analytical details can reduce the variance in the clinical setting to a level where patterns of gene expression are informative among different healthy human subjects, and can be studied with confidence in human disease. © 2005 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.