Mitochondrial function depends on the coordinate action of nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. The genetic dissection of these interactions presents special challenges in obligate aerobes, because the viability of these organisms depends on mitochondrial respiration. The plant trait cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) is determined by the mitochondrial genome and is associated with a pollen sterility phenotype that can be suppressed or counteracted by nuclear genes known as restorer-of-fertility genes. Here, I review the nature and the origin of the genes that determine CMS, together with recent investigations that have exploited CMS to provide new insights into plant mitochondrial-nuclear communication. These studies have implicated mitochondrial signaling pathways, including those involved in regulating cell death and nuclear gene expression, in the elaboration of CMS. The molecular cloning of nuclear genes that restore fertility (i.e. restorer-of-fertility genes) has identified genes encoding pentatricopeptide-repeat proteins as key regulators of plant mitochondrial gene expression.