Plants are hosts to a wide array of pathogens from all kingdoms of life. In the absence of an active immune system or combinatorial diversifications that lead to recombination-driven somatic gene flexibility, plants have evolved different strategies to combat both individual pathogen strains and changing pathogen populations. The receptor-like kinase (RLK) gene-family expansion in plants was hypothesized to have allowed accelerated evolution among domains implicated in signal reception, typically a leucine-rich repeat (LRR). Under that model, the gene-family expansion represents a plant-specific adaptation that leads to the production of numerous and variable cell surface and cytoplasmic receptors. More recently, it has emerged that the LRR domains of RLK interact with a diverse group of proteins leading to combinatorial variations in signal response specificity. Therefore, the RLK appear to play a central role in signaling during pathogen recognition, the subsequent activation of plant defense mechanisms, and developmental control. The future challenges will include determinations of RLK modes of action, the basis of recognition and specificity, which cellular responses each receptor mediates, and how both receptor and kinase domain interactions fit into the defense signaling cascades. These challenges will be complicated by the limited information that may be derived from the primary sequence of the LRR domain. The review focuses upon implications derived from recent studies of the secondary and tertiary structures of several plant RLK that change understanding of plant receptor function and signaling. In addition, the biological functions of plant and animal RLK-containing receptors were reviewed and commonalities among their signaling mechanisms identified. Further elucidated were the genomic and structural organizations of RLK gene families, with special emphasis on RLK implicated in resistance to disease and development.