Reactive oxygen intermediates (ROIs) such as hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) and the superoxide anion radical (O*(2)(-)) accumulate in many plants during attack by microbial pathogens. Despite a huge number of studies, the complete picture of the role of ROIs in the host-pathogen interaction is not yet fully understood. This situation is reflected by the controversially discussed question as to whether ROIs are key factors in the establishment and maintenance of either host cell inaccessibility or accessibility for fungal pathogens. On the one hand, ROIs have been implicated in signal transduction as well as in the execution of defence reactions such as cell wall strengthening and a rapid host cell death (hypersensitive reaction). On the other hand, ROIs accumulate in compatible interactions, and there are reports suggesting a function of ROIs in restricting the spread of leaf lesions and thus in suppressing cell death. Moreover, in situ analyses have demonstrated that different ROIs may trigger opposite effects in plants depending on their spatiotemporal distribution and subcellular concentrations. This demonstrates the need to determine the particular role of individual ROIs in distinct stages of pathogen development. The well-studied interaction of cereals with fungi from the genus Blumeria is an excellent model system in which signal transduction and defence reactions can be further elucidated in planta. This review article gives a synopsis of the role of ROI accumulation, with particular emphasis on the pathosystem Hordeum vulgare L.- Blumeria graminis.