Plants, like other organisms, have developed mechanisms that allow them to sense and respond to changes in levels of carbon and nitrogen metabolites. These mechanisms, in turn, regulate the expression of genes and the activities of proteins involved in C and N transport and metabolism, allowing plants to optimize the use of energy resources. Recent studies, which have involved molecular-genetic, genomic, and cell biological approaches, have begun to uncover the signals and components of C:N sensing and signaling mechanisms in plants. For sugar sensing, analysis of Arabidopsis mutants has revealed intersections with hormone and nitrogen signaling. For nitrogen sensing/signaling, recent progress has identified transcriptional and posttranslational mechanisms of regulation. In all, a complex picture is emerging in which C:N signaling systems are subject to a 'matrix effect' in which downstream responses are dependent upon cell-type, developmental, metabolic, and/or environmental conditions.