The Toll-Dorsal pathway in Drosophila and the interleukin-1 receptor (IL-1R)-NF-kappa B pathway in mammals are homologous signal transduction pathways that mediate several different biological responses. In Drosophila, genetic analysis of dorsal-ventral patterning of the embryo has defined the series of genes that mediate the Toll-Dorsal pathway. Binding of extracellular ligand activates the transmembrane receptor Toll, which requires the novel protein Tube to activate the cytoplasmic serine/threonine kinase Pelle. Pelle activity controls the degradation of the Cactus protein, which is present in a cytoplasmic complex with the Dorsal protein. Once Cactus is degraded in response to signal, Dorsal is free to move into the nucleus where it regulates transcription of specific target genes. The Toll, tube, pelle, cactus, and dorsal genes also appear to be involved in Drosophila immune response. Because the IL-1R-NF-kappa B pathway plays a role in vertebrate innate immunity and because plant homologues of the Toll-Dorsal pathway are important in plant disease resistance, it is likely that this pathway arose before the divergence of plants and animals as a defense against pathogens.