Resistance (R) genes in plants mediate gene-for-gene disease resistance. The ligand-receptor model, which explains the gene-for-gene specificity, predicts a physical interaction between an elicitor, which is directly or indirectly encoded by an avirulence (avr) gene in the pathogen, and the corresponding R gene product. The nucleotide binding site (NBS) - leucine rich repeats (LRR) class of R genes is the largest known class of R genes. Here we report that an NBS-LRR R protein and its cognate Avr protein form a complex together in the plant cell. The Arabidopsis thaliana R genes RPS2 and RPM1 confer gene-for-gene disease resistance to strains of the phytopathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas syringae carrying the avr genes avrRpt2 and avrB, respectively. Using transient expression of these genes in Arabidopsis leaf mesophyll protoplasts, we first demonstrated that the protoplast system is appropriate for the investigation of the gene-for-gene recognition mechanism. Formation of an in vivo complex containing the RPS2 and AvrRpt2 proteins was demonstrated by co-immunoprecipitation of the proteins following expression of the genes in protoplasts. This complex contained at least one additional plant protein of approximately 75 kDa. Unexpectedly, RPS2 also formed a complex with AvrB. We speculate that complex formation between AvrRpt2 and RPS2 is productive and leads to the elicitation of the resistance response, whilst complex formation between AvrB and RPS2 is unproductive and possibly competes with complex formation between AvrRpt2 and RPS2.