A large number of publications recently have drawn strong analogies between the production of active oxygen species in plant cells and the "oxidative burst" of the phagocyte, even to the point of constructing elaborate models involving receptor mediated G-protein activation of a plasmalemma NADPH oxidase in plant cells. However there are potentially other active oxygen species generating systems at the plant cell surface. The present work examines these alternatives with particular emphasis on the rapid production of active oxygen species, in common with a number of other systems, by suspension-cultured cells of French bean on exposure to an elicitor preparation from the fungal pathogen Colletotrichum lindemuthianum. The cells show a rapid increase in oxygen uptake which is followed shortly afterwards by the appearance of a burst of these active oxygen species, as measured by a luminescence assay, which is probably all accounted for by hydrogen peroxide. An essential factor in this production of H2O2 appears to be transient alkalinization of the apoplast where the pH rises to 7.0-7.2. Dissipation of this pH change with a number of treatments, including ionophores and strong buffers, substantially inhibits the oxidative burst. Little evidence was found for enhanced activation of a membrane-bound NADPH oxidase. However the production of H2O2 under alkaline conditions can be modelled in vitro with a number of peroxidases, one of which, an M(r) 46,000 wall-bound cationic peroxidase, is able to sustain H2O2 production at neutral pH unlike the other peroxidases which only show low levels of this reaction under such conditions and have pH optima at values greater than 8.0. On the basis of such comparative pH profiles between the cells and the purified peroxidase and further inhibition studies a direct production of H2O2 from the wall peroxidase in French bean cells is proposed. These experiments may mimic some of the responses to plant pathogens, particularly the hypersensitive response, which is an important feature of resistance. A cell wall peroxidase-origin for the oxidative burst is clearly different from a model consisting of receptor activation of a plasmalemma-localised NADPH oxidase generating superoxide. An alternative simple and rapid mechanism thus exists for the generation of H2O2 which does not require such multiple proteinaceous components.