Barley endosperm cells differentiate into transfer cells (ETCs) opposite the nucellar projection. To comprehensively analyse ETC differentiation, laser microdissection-based transcript and metabolite profiles were obtained from laser microdissected tissues and cell morphology was analysed. Flange-like secondary-wall ingrowths appeared between 5 and 7 days after pollination within the three outermost cell layers. Gene expression analysis indicated that ethylene-signalling pathways initiate ETC morphology. This is accompanied by gene activity related to cell shape control and vesicle transport, with abundant mitochondria and endomembrane structures. Gene expression analyses indicate predominant formation of hemicelluloses, glucuronoxylans and arabinoxylans, and transient formation of callose, together with proline and 4-hydroxyproline biosynthesis. Activation of the methylation cycle is probably required for biosynthesis of phospholipids, pectins and ethylene. Membrane microdomains involving sterols/sphingolipids and remorins are potentially involved in ETC development. The transcriptional activity of assimilate and micronutrient transporters suggests ETCs as the main uptake organs of solutes into the endosperm. Accordingly, the endosperm grows maximally after ETCs are fully developed. Up-regulated gene expression related to amino acid catabolism, C:N balances, carbohydrate oxidation, mitochondrial activity and starch degradation meets high demands for respiratory energy and carbohydrates, required for cell proliferation and wall synthesis. At 10 days after pollination, ETCs undergo further differentiation, potentially initiated by abscisic acid, and metabolism is reprogrammed as shown by activated storage and stress-related processes. Overall, the data provide a comprehensive view of barley ETC differentiation and development, and identify candidate genes and associated pathways.