The AP2 transcription factor family, found only in plants, includes several genes that encode proteins involved in the regulation of disease resistance pathways. These genes are members of the ethylene response factor (ERF) subfamily of AP2 transcription factor genes, which have only a single DNA-binding domain and are distinct from members of the dehydration-responsive element binding (DREB) subfamily. Some ERF subgroups are enriched in such genes, suggesting that they have conserved functions that are required for the regulation of disease resistance pathways. The expression of several ERF genes is regulated by plant hormones, such as jasmonic acid, salicylic acid and ethylene, as well as by pathogen challenge. A phylogenetic overview of these genes, with a focus on Arabidopsis, rice and tomato, suggests that despite broad conservation of their function in monocots and dicots, some structural elements are specialized within each of these two lineages.