The plant response to attempted infection by microbial pathogens is often accompanied by rapid cell death in and around the initial infection site, a reaction known as the hypersensitive response. This response is associated with restricted pathogen growth and represents a form of programmed cell death (PCD). Recent pharmacological and molecular studies have provided functional evidence for the conservation of some of the basic regulatory mechanisms underlying the response to pathogens and the activation of PCD in animal and plant systems. In animals, the mitochondrion integrates diverse cellular stress signals and initiates the death execution pathway, and studies indicate a similar involvement for mitochondria in regulating PCD in plants. But many of the cell-death regulators that have been characterized in humans, worms and flies are absent from the Arabidopsis genome, indicating that plants probably use other regulators to control this process.