In animals and humans, steroid hormones (SHs) regulate gene transcription via the binding of nuclear receptors. In addition, rapid nongenomic effects of steroids occur and appear to be mediated by plasma-membrane receptors. Plants also use steroids as signaling molecules. These brassinosteroids (BRs) show structural similarity to the SHs of vertebrates and insects. Plant mutants defective in brassinosteroid biosynthesis or perception exhibit dwarfism and reduced fertility, and reveal the need for BRs during growth and development. BR signaling in Arabidopsis thaliana and rice (Oryza sativa) - dicotyledonous and monocotyledonous models, respectively - is mediated by the receptor kinases BRI1 and OsBRI1. The extracellular domain of BRI1 perceives BRs and the signal is mediated via an intracellular kinase domain that autophosphorylates Ser and Thr residues and apparently has the potential to phosphorylate other substrates. BRI1 transduces steroid signals across the plasma membrane and mediates genomic effects.