Recessive mlo resistance alleles of the Mlo locus in barley control a non race-specific resistance response to infection by the obligate biotrophic fungus Erysiphe graminis f.sp. hordei. All the mlo alleles analysed stop fungal growth at the same developmental stage within a subcellularly restricted, highly localized cell wall apposition directly beneath the site of abortive fungal penetration. We report that near-isogenic lines carrying the alleles mlo1, mlo3 or mlo5 undergo dramatic spontaneous formation of cell wall appositions, not only in the absence of the fungal pathogen but also in sterile grown plants. A comparative study of spontaneous and infection-triggered cell wall appositions reveals a high degree of similarity with respect to structure, chemical composition and distinct localization within plant tissue. We show that the rate of spontaneous apposition formation is dependent on the genetic background of the plant and that its onset is under developmental control. Furthermore, spontaneous formation of wall appositions is specifically triggered by mlo alleles, since it is unaffected in the presence of the race-specific resistance allele Mlg. We propose a model for the function of the Mlo locus that suggests that both Mlo and mlo alleles control qualitatively the same apposition-based resistance mechanism, which, in the presence of the wild-type Mlo allele, is merely less efficient to provide protection against the currently common races of E. graminis f.sp. hordei.