An analysis of changes in global gene expression patterns during developmental leaf senescence in Arabidopsis has identified more than 800 genes that show a reproducible increase in transcript abundance. This extensive change illustrates the dramatic alterations in cell metabolism that underpin the developmental transition from a photosynthetically active leaf to a senescing organ which functions as a source of mobilizable nutrients. Comparison of changes in gene expression patterns during natural leaf senescence with those identified, when senescence is artificially induced in leaves induced to senesce by darkness or during sucrose starvation-induced senescence in cell suspension cultures, has shown not only similarities but also considerable differences. The data suggest that alternative pathways for essential metabolic processes such as nitrogen mobilization are used in different senescent systems. Gene expression patterns in the senescent cell suspension cultures are more similar to those for dark-induced senescence and this may be a consequence of sugar starvation in both tissues. Gene expression analysis in senescing leaves of plant lines defective in signalling pathways involving salicylic acid (SA), jasmonic acid (JA) and ethylene has shown that these three pathways are all required for expression of many genes during developmental senescence. The JA/ethylene pathways also appear to operate in regulating gene expression in dark-induced and cell suspension senescence whereas the SA pathway is not involved. The importance of the SA pathway in the senescence process is illustrated by the discovery that developmental leaf senescence, but not dark-induced senescence, is delayed in plants defective in the SA pathway.