Gene expression analysis has been established as a tool for the characterization of genotoxic mechanisms of chemical mutagens. This approach has been shown to differentiate between DNA reactive genotoxins and non-DNA reactive or indirectly-acting genotoxins. In this context, it has been suggested that expression analysis is capable of distinguishing compounds that cause DNA damage from those that interfere with mitotic spindle function. Formaldehyde (FA) is known to be a DNA-reactive substance which mainly induces chromosomal damage in cultured mammalian cells. However, there has been concern that FA might also act as an aneugen (i.e., induce aneuploidy) but recent cytogenetic studies did not support this assumption. To further characterize FA's genotoxic mode of action, we now used gene expression profiling as a molecular tool to differentiate between clastogenic and aneugenic activity. TK6 cells were exposed to FA for 4 and 24 h and changes in gene expression were analyzed using a whole-genome human microarray. Results were compared to the expression profiles of two DNA-damaging clastogens (methyl methanesulfonate [MMS] and ethyl methanesulfonate [EMS]) and two aneugens (colcemid [COL] and vincristine [VCR]). The gene expression profiles indicated that clastogens and aneugens induce discriminable gene expression patterns. The expression profile of FA showed more similarities to clastogens than to aneugens. Hierarchical clustering analysis as well as several class prediction algorithms revealed a much closer relationship of FA with clastogens than with aneugens. A pathway analysis of differentially regulated genes also demonstrated an overall better agreement of FA with clastogens than with aneugens. Altogether, the results of this study revealed great similarities in gene expression in response to FA and clastogens but did not support an aneugenic activity of FA.