Nitric oxide (NO) is a highly reactive molecule that rapidly diffuses and permeates cell membranes. During the last few years NO has been detected in several plant species, and the increasing number of reports on its function in plants have implicated NO as a key molecular signal that participates in the regulation of several physiological processes; in particular, it has a significant role in plant resistance to pathogens by triggering resistance-associated cell death and by contributing to the local and systemic induction of defence genes. NO stimulates signal transduction pathways through protein kinases, cytosolic Ca2+ mobilization and protein modification (i.e. nitrosylation and nitration). In this review we will examine the synthesis of NO, its effects, functions and signalling giving rise to the hypersensitive response and systemic acquired resistance during plant–pathogen interactions.