As genomic sequencing of Leishmania nears completion, functional analyses that provide a global genetic perspective on biological processes are important. Despite polycistronic transcription, RNA transcript abundance can be measured using microarrays. To provide a resource to evaluate cDNA arrays, we undertook 5′ expressed sequence tag analysis of 2183 full-length randomly selected cDNAs from Leishmania major promastigote (days 3, 7, 10 of culture in vitro), and lesion-derived amastigote libraries. PCR-amplified inserts from 1830 of these cDNA representing 1001 unique genes were spotted onto microarrays, and compared internally with PCR-amplified open reading frames (ORFs) from 904 genes representing 842 unique genes annotated in the L. major genome. Microarrays were screened with RNA from procyclic, metacyclic and amastigote populations of L. major. Redundant clones on the array gave highly reproducible results, providing confidence in identification of stage-specific gene expression. Four hundred and thirty unique (i.e. non-redundant) stage-specific genes were identified. A higher percentage of stage-specific gene expression was observed in amastigotes (∼35%) compared to metacyclics (∼12%) for both cDNAs and ORFs, but cDNAs provided a richer source of regulated genes than currently annotated ORFs from the Leishmania genome. In mapping cDNAs onto the Leishmania genome, we noted that ∼42% aligned to regions not recognised as genes using current predictive annotation tools. These genes are highly represented in our stage-specific genes, and therefore represent important drug targets and vaccine candidates. Careful annotation of cDNAs onto the Leishmania genome will be important before producing the next generation of oligonucleotide arrays based on annotated genes of the genomic sequencing project.