In general, it is not easy to specify a single sequence identity for each molecule name that appears in a pathway in the scientific literature. A molecule name may stand for concepts of various granularities, from concrete objects such as H-Ras and ERK1 to abstract concepts or categories such as Ras and MAPK. Typically, the relations among molecule names derive a hierarchical structure; without a proper way to handle this knowledge, it becomes ever more difficult to develop a reliable pathway database. This paper describes an ontology that is designed to annotate molecules in the scientific literature on signal transduction pathways. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.