Chromosomally encoded systems present in a variety of bacteria appear to play a central role in determining the intrinsic level of resistance to many commonly used antibiotics. Work with the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli has shown that there is significant similarity at the amino acid sequence level among the structural components of these resistance systems as well as among their genetic regulators. This review describes two of the better-studied regulatory systems, marRAB and soxRS, as well as two regulated multidrug-efflux systems, encoded by emrAB and acrAB, and focuses on conserved themes in their primary structures and environmental stimuli. The observed resistance to clinically important antibiotics appears to reflect an overlap with broad-ranged adaptive responses by free-living bacteria to noxious plant materials in their natural environment.