Programmed cell death (PCD) is an important and universal process regulating precise death of unwanted cells in eukaryotes. In plants, the existence of PCD has been firmly established for about a decade, and many components shown to be involved in apoptosis/PCD in mammalian systems are found in plant cells undergoing PCD. Here, we review work from our lab demonstrating the involvement of PCD in the self-incompatibility response in Papaver rhoeas pollen. This utilization of PCD as a consequence of a specific pollen–pistil interaction provides a very neat way to destroy unwanted ‘self’, but not ‘non-self’ pollen. We discuss recent data providing evidence for SI-induced activation of several caspase-like activities and suggest that an acidification of the cytosol may be a key turning point in the activation of caspase-like proteases executing PCD. We also review data showing the involvement of the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons as well as that of a MAPK in signalling to caspase-mediated PCD. Potential links between these various components in signalling to PCD are discussed. Together, this begins to build a picture of PCD in a single cell system, triggered by a receptor–ligand interaction.