Abstract Genotoxic stress triggers a variety of biological responses including the transcriptional activation of genes regulating DNA repair, cell survival and cell death. Genomic approaches, which monitor gene expressions across large numbers of genes, can serve as a powerful tool for exploring mechanisms of toxicity. Here, using five different agents, we investigated whether the analysis of genome-wide expression profiles in Saccharomyces cerevisiae could provide insights into mechanisms of genotoxicity versus cytotoxicity. To differentiate the genotoxic stress-associated expression signatures from that of a general cytotoxic stress, we compared gene expression profiles following the treatment with DNA-reactive (cisplatin, MMS, bleomycin) and DNA non-reactive (ethanol and sodium chloride) compounds. Although each of the tested chemicals produced a distinct gene expression profile, we were able to identify a gene expression signature consisting of a relatively small number of biologically relevant genes capable of differentiating genotoxic and cytotoxic stress. The gene set includes such upregulated genes as HUG1, ECM4 and previously uncharacterized gene, YLR297W in the genotoxic and GAP1, CGR1 in the cytotoxic group. Our results indicate the potential of gene expression profile analysis for elucidating mechanism of action of genotoxic agents.