Plants must deal effectively with unfavorable growth conditions that necessitate a coordinated response to integrate cellular signals with mitochondrial retrograde signals. A genetic screen was carried out to identify regulators of alternative oxidase (rao mutants), using AOX1a expression as a model system to study retrograde signaling in plants. Two independent rao1 mutant alleles identified CDKE1 as a central nuclear component integrating mitochondrial retrograde signals with energy signals under stress. CDKE1 is also necessary for responses to general cellular stresses, such as H(2)O(2) and cold that act, at least in part, via anterograde pathways, and integrates signals from central energy/stress sensing kinase signal transduction pathways within the nucleus. Together, these results place CDKE1 as a central kinase integrating diverse cellular signals and shed light on a mechanism by which plants can effectively switch between growth and stress responses.