Background The plant hormone cytokinin regulates growth and development of roots and shoots in opposite ways. In shoots it is a positive growth regulator whereas it inhibits growth in roots. It may be assumed that organ-specific regulation of gene expression is involved in these differential activities, but little is known about it. To get more insight into the transcriptional events triggered by cytokinin in roots and shoots, we studied genome-wide gene expression in cytokinin-treated and cytokinin-deficient roots and shoots. Results It was found by principal component analysis of the transcriptomic data that the immediate-early response to a cytokinin stimulus differs from the later response, and that the transcriptome of cytokinin-deficient plants is different from both the early and the late cytokinin induction response. A higher cytokinin status in the roots activated the expression of numerous genes normally expressed predominantly in the shoot, while a lower cytokinin status in the shoot reduced the expression of genes normally more active in the shoot to a more root-like level. This shift predominantly affected nuclear genes encoding plastid proteins. An organ-specific regulation was assigned to a number of genes previously known to react to a cytokinin signal, including root-specificity for the cytokinin hydroxylase gene CYP735A2 and shoot specificity for the cell cycle regulator gene CDKA;1. Numerous cytokinin-regulated genes were newly discovered or confirmed, including the meristem regulator genes SHEPHERD and CLAVATA1, auxin-related genes (IAA7, IAA13, AXR1, PIN2, PID), several genes involved in brassinosteroid (CYP710A1, CYP710A2, DIM/DWF) and flavonol (MYB12, CHS, FLS1) synthesis, various transporter genes (e.g. HKT1), numerous members of the AP2/ERF transcription factor gene family, genes involved in light signalling (PhyA, COP1, SPA1), and more than 80 ribosomal genes. However, contrasting with the fundamental difference of the growth response of roots and shoots to the hormone, the vast majority of the cytokinin-regulated transcriptome showed similar response patterns in roots and shoots. Conclusions The shift of the root and shoot transcriptomes towards the respective other organ depending on the cytokinin status indicated that the hormone determines part of the organ-specific transcriptome pattern independent of morphological organ identity. Numerous novel cytokinin-regulated genes were discovered which had escaped earlier discovery, most probably due to unspecific sampling. These offer novel insights into the diverse activities of cytokinin, including crosstalk with other hormones and different environmental cues, identify the AP2/ERF class of transcriptions factors as particularly cytokinin sensitive, and also suggest translational control of cytokinin-induced changes.