All known cell types use signal transduction systems to respond to an extracellular or intracellular event. The role of these systems can be to adapt to environmental changes or simply to maintain homeostasis. Cells detect and respond to stimuli in a number of ways. Here we review the mechanisms involved in the transmission of a signal from point of detection to site of action. In particular, a comparison is made between the signalling networks which function in gene transcription in bacterial and eukaryotic cells. Knowledge of the similarities between the systems found in the two types of cells can provide a better understanding of the function and origin of signalling components. In addition, the divergence evident can be exploited by molecules that modulate or disrupt the function of differential signalling mechanisms.