In incompatible plant-pathogen interactions, disease resistance is generated by rapid activation of a multitude of plant defence reactions. Little is known about the dependency of these resistance responses on external factors. The plasticity of plant defence mechanisms in terms of light conditions is studied here. Interaction of Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. with an avirulent strain of Pseudomonas syringae pv. maculicola in the dark resulted in increased apoplastic bacterial growth and therefore reduced local resistance as compared to an infection process in the presence of light. Several characteristic defence reactions, including activation of phenylalanine ammonia-lyase, accumulation of salicylic acid (SA), expression of the pathogenesis-related protein PR-1 and the development of a microscopically defined hypersensitive response, proved to be light dependent. In contrast, the extent of the oxidative burst, as estimated by induction of the protectant gene glutathione- S-transferase, was not weakened by the absence of light. Moreover, pathogen-induced accumulation of jasmonic acid, production of the phytoalexin camalexin and transcriptional induction of a pathogen-inducible myrosinase were even more pronounced in the dark. Apart from affecting local defence responses, light also influenced the establishment of systemic acquired resistance (SAR). SAR development in response to infection by avirulent bacteria was completely lost when the primary infection process occurred in the absence of light. SAR developed both under medium (70 micromol photons m(-2) s(-1)) and strong (500 micromol photons m(-2) s(-1)) light conditions but was in the latter case not associated with an accumulation of SA and PR-1 in systemic leaves, demonstrating that SAR can be executed independently from these molecular SAR markers. Our results are consistent with the notion that SA accumulation in infected primary leaves is necessary for induction of systemic resistance and indicate that defence mechanisms different from SA signalling and PR-protein action exist in systemic tissue to confer resistance during SAR.