Genetic and biochemical dissection of signaling pathways regulating plant pathogen defense has revealed remarkable similarities with the innate immune system of mammals and Drosophila. Numerous plant proteins resembling eukaryotic receptors have been implicated in the perception of pathogen-derived signal molecules. Receptor-mediated changes in levels of free calcium in the cytoplasm and production of reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide constitute early events generally observed in plant-pathogen interactions. Positive and negative regulation of plant pathogen defense responses has been attributed to mitogen-activated protein kinase cascades. In addition, salicylic acid, jasmonic acid and ethylene are components of signaling networks that provide the molecular basis for specificity of plant defense responses. This article reviews recent advances in our understanding of early signaling events involved in the establishment of plant disease resistance.