Post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS) is a form of stable but potentially reversible epigenetic modification, which frequently occurs in transgenic plants. The interaction in trans of genes with similar transcribed sequences results in sequence-specific degradation of RNAs derived from the genes involved. Highly expressed single-copy loci, transcribed inverted repeats, and poorly transcribed complex loci can act as sources of signals that trigger PTGS. In some cases, mobile, sequence-specific silencing signals can move from cell to cell or even over long distances in the plant. Several current models hold that silencing signals are 'aberrant' RNAs (aRNA), which differ in some way from normal mRNAs. The most likely candidates are small antisense RNAs (asRNA) and double-stranded RNAs (dsRNA). Direct evidence that these or other aRNAs found in silent tissues can induce PTGS is still lacking. Most current models assume that silencing signals interact with target RNAs in a sequence-specific fashion. This results in degradation, usually in the cytoplasm, by exonucleolytic as well as endonucleolytic pathways, which are not necessarily PTGS-specific. Biochemical-switch models hold that the silent state is maintained by a positive auto-regulatory loop. One possibility is that concentrations of hypothetical silencing signals above a critical threshold trigger their own production by self-replication, by degradation of target RNAs, or by a combination of both mechanisms. These models can account for the stability, reversibility and multiplicity of silent states; the strong influence of transcription rate of target genes on the incidence and stability of silencing, and the amplification and systemic propagation of motile silencing signals.