During normal brain aging, numerous alterations develop in the physiology, biochemistry and structure of neurons and glia. Aging changes occur in most brain regions and, in the hippocampus, have been linked to declining cognitive performance in both humans and animals. Age-related changes in hippocampal regions also may be harbingers of more severe decrements to come from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, unraveling the mechanisms underlying brain aging, AD and impaired function has been difficult because of the complexity of the networks that drive these aging-related changes. Gene microarray technology allows massively parallel analysis of most genes expressed in a tissue, and therefore is an important new research tool that potentially can provide the investigative power needed to address the complexity of brain aging/neurodegenerative processes. However, along with this new analytic power, microarrays bring several major bioinformatics and resource problems that frequently hinder the optimal application of this technology. In particular, microarray analyses generate extremely large and unwieldy data sets and are subject to high false positive and false negative rates. Concerns also have been raised regarding their accuracy and uniformity. Furthermore, microarray analyses can result in long lists of altered genes, most of which may be difficult to evaluate for functional relevance. These and other problems have led to some skepticism regarding the reliability and functional usefulness of microarray data and to a general view that microarray data should be validated by an independent method. Given recent progress, however, we suggest that the major problem for current microarray research is no longer validity of expression measurements, but rather, the reliability of inferences from the data, an issue more appropriately redressed by statistical approaches than by validation with a separate method. If tested using statistically defined criteria for reliability/significance, microarray data do not appear a priori to require more independent validation than data obtained by any other method. In fact, because of added confidence from co-regulation, they may require less. In this article we also discuss our strategy of statistically correlating individual gene expression with biologically important endpoints designed to address the problem of evaluating functional relevance. We also review how work by ourselves and others with this powerful technology is leading to new insights into the complex processes of brain aging and AD, and to novel, more comprehensive models of aging-related brain change. © 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.