The emergence of Arabidopsis as a model plant provides an opportunity to gain insights into the role of the alternative oxidase that cannot be as readily achieved in other plant species. The analysis of extensive mRNA expression data indicates that all five Aox genes (Aox1a, 1b, 1c, 1d and 2) are expressed, but organ and developmental regulation are evident, suggesting regulatory specialisation of Aox gene members. The stress-induced nature of the alternative pathway in a variety of plants is further supported in Arabidopsis as Aox1a and Aox1d are amongst the most stress responsive genes amongst the hundreds of known genes encoding mitochondrial proteins. Analysis of genes co-expressed with Aoxs from studies of responses to various treatments altering mitochondrial functions and/or from plants with altered Aox levels reveals that: (i) this gene set encodes more functions outside the mitochondrion than functions in mitochondria, (ii) several pathways for induction exist and there is a difference in the magnitude of the induction in each pathway, (iii) the magnitude of induction may depend on the endogenous levels of Aox, and (iv) induction of Aox can be oxidative stress-dependent or -independent depending on the gene member and the tissue analysed. An overall role for Aox in re-programming cellular metabolism in response to the ever changing environment encountered by plants is proposed.