Studies in our laboratory as well as others strongly suggest that salicylic acid (SA) plays an important signaling role in plant defense against pathogens. We have found that increases in endogenous SA levels correlates with both resistance of tobacco to infection with tobacco mosaic virus and induction of defense-related genes such as that encoding pathogenesis-related protein 1 (PR-1). Some of this newly synthesized SA was conjugated to glucose to form SA beta-glucoside. A cell wall-associated beta-glucosidase activity that releases SA from this glucoside has been identified, suggesting that SA beta-glucoside serves as an inactive storage form of SA. By purifying a soluble SA-binding protein and isolating its encoding cDNA from tobacco, we have been able to further characterize the mechanism of SA signaling. This protein is a catalase, and binding of SA and its biologically active analogues inhibited catalase's ability to convert H2O2 to O2 and H2O. The resulting elevated levels of cellular H2O2 appeared to induce PR-1 gene expression, perhaps by acting as a second messenger. Additionally, transgenic tobacco expressing an antisense copy of the catalase gene and exhibiting depressed levels of catalase also showed constitutive expression of PR-1 genes. To further dissect the SA signaling pathway, we have tested several abiotic inducers of PR gene expression and disease resistance for their ability to stimulate SA production. Levels of SA and its glucoside rose following application of all of the inducers except 2,6-dichloroisonicotinic acid. 2,6-Dichloroisonicotinic acid was found to bind catalase directly and inhibit its enzymatic activity. Thus, it appears that many compounds that induce PR gene expression and disease resistance in plants inactivate catalases directly or indirectly.