A cDNA microarray (18 263 probes) was used for transcriptome analysis of bovine skeletal muscle (m. semitendinosus) in 12-month-old bulls of the beef breed Limousin (LIM) and the typical dairy breed Holstein-Friesian (HF, used as a reference). We aimed to identify the genes whose expression may reflect the muscle phenotype of beef bulls. A comparison of muscle transcriptional profiles revealed significant differences in expression of 393 genes between HF and LIM. We classified biological functions of 117 genes with over 2-fold differences in expression between the examined breeds. Among them, 72 genes were up-regulated and 45 genes were down-regulated in LIM vs. HF. The genes were involved in protein metabolism and modifications (22 genes), signal transduction (15), nucleoside, nucleotide and nucleic acid metabolism (13), cell cycle (9), cell structure and motility (9), developmental processes (9), intracellular protein traffic (7), cell proliferation and differentiation (6), cell adhesion (6), lipid, fatty acid and steroid metabolism (5), transport (5), and other processes. For the purpose of microarray data validation, we randomly selected 4 genes: trip12, mrps30, pycrl, and c-erbb3. Real-time RT-PCR results showed similar trends in gene expression changes as those observed in microarray studies. Basing on results of the present study, we proposed a model of the regulation of skeletal muscle growth and differentiation, with a principal role of the somatotropic pathway. It may explain at least in part the development of muscle phenotype in LIM bulls. We assume that the growth hormone directly or indirectly (through IGF-1) activates the calcium-signaling pathway with calcineurin, which stimulates myogenic regulatory factors (MRFs) and inhibits early growth response gene. The inhibition results in indirect activation of MRFs and impaired activation of TGF-beta1 and myostatin, which finally facilitates terminal muscle differentiation.