Multicellular animals detect pathogens via a set of receptors that recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). However, pathogens are not the only causative agents of tissue and cell damage: trauma is another one. Evidence is accumulating that trauma and its associated tissue damage are recognized at the cell level via receptor-mediated detection of intracellular proteins released by the dead cells. The term "alarmin" is proposed to categorize such endogenous molecules that signal tissue and cell damage. Intriguingly, effector cells of innate and adaptive immunity can secrete alarmins via nonclassical pathways and often do so when they are activated by PAMPs or other alarmins. Endogenous alarmins and exogenous PAMPs therefore convey a similar message and elicit similar responses; they can be considered subgroups of a larger set, the damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs).