The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase) signal transduction cascades are routes through which eukaryotic cells deliver extracellular messages to the cytosol and nucleus. These signalling pathways direct cell division, cellular differentiation, metabolism, and both biotic and abiotic stress responses. In plants, MAP kinases and the upstream components of the cascades are represented by multigene families, organized into different pathways which are stimulated and interact in complex ways. Experimental strategies for the analysis of MAP kinase cascades include the yeast two-hybrid system; using this approach in vitro interactions between specific MAP kinase cascade components have been analysed and putative plant cascades postulated. Transient transformation of protoplasts with epitope-tagged kinases has allowed cascades to be tested in planta. There is clear evidence for the involvement of MAP kinases in plant cell division and in the regulation of auxin signalling. Biotic (pathogens and pathogen-derived elicitors from fungi, bacteria and viruses) and abiotic stresses including wounding, mechanical stimulation, cold, drought and ozone can elicit defence responses in plants through MAP kinase pathways. There are data suggesting that ABA signalling utilizes a MAP kinase pathway, and probably ethylene and perhaps cytokinins do so also. The objective of this paper is to review this rapidly advancing field.