Programmed cell death (PCD) is a form of cellular suicide requiring active gene expression, and occurs in both animals and plants. While the cascade of events and the genes that control PCD have been extensively studied in animals, we remain largely ignorant about the similar process in plant cells. Many of the key proteins of animal cell death such as the Bcl-2 family and the caspase family of proteases do not appear to be conserved in plants, suggesting that plants may employ unique mechanisms to execute PCD. To identify genetic elements of PCD in plants, we monitored changes in transcript levels of approximately 100 selected genes during cell death in an Arabidopsis cell suspension culture using a cDNA microarray. PCD was induced in the cell cultures by two independent means (heat treatment or by allowing the cultures to senesce) to allow the distinction to be drawn between changes in gene expression that are related to PCD and those that are specific to a particular treatment. We argue that genes whose expression is altered during PCD induced by two different means may be generally involved in all types of PCD. We show that certain oxidative stress-related genes, including CSD1, CSD3, and GPX, in addition to cysteine proteinases, some transcription factors, and HR-related genes may serve as markers of a core plant cell death programme. Additionally we observe a down-regulation of the mitochondrial adenine nucleotide transporter and suggest that this may be an early event in the execution of plant PCD.