Plants are under constant threat of infection by pathogens armed with a diverse array of effector molecules to colonize their host. Plants have, in turn, evolved sophisticated detection and response systems that decipher pathogen signals and induce appropriate defenses. Genetic analysis of plant mutants impaired in mounting a resistance response to invading pathogens has uncovered a number of distinct, but interconnecting, signaling networks that are under both positive and negative control. These pathways operate, at least partly, through the action of small signaling molecules such as salicylate, jasmonate and ethylene. The interplay of signals probably allows the plant to fine-tune defense responses in both local and systemic tissue.