Cell death and disease resistance are intimately connected in plants. Plant disease resistance genes (R genes) are key components in pathogen perception and have a potential to activate cell death pathways. Analysis of R proteins suggests common molecular mechanisms for pathogen recognition and signal emission whereas the subsequent signalling unexpectedly involves a network of pathways of parallel, branching and converging action. Disease resistance signalling mutants have revealed novel types of regulatory proteins whose biochemical functions are still unknown. Accumulation of small molecules such as salicylic acid, reactive oxygen intermediates, and nitric oxide amplifies resistance responses and directs cells to initiate cell death programs. Genetic analyses of lesion mimic mutants provide a glimpse of how cell death thresholds are set via an interplay of positive and negative regulatory components.