An assay was developed to study plant receptor kinase activation and signaling mechanisms. The extracellular leucine-rich repeat (LRR) and transmembrane domains of the Arabidopsis receptor kinase BRI1, which is implicated in brassinosteroid signaling, were fused to the serine/threonine kinase domain of XA21, the rice disease resistance receptor. The chimeric receptor initiates plant defense responses in rice cells upon treatment with brassinosteroids. These results, which indicate that the extracellular domain of BRI1 perceives brassinosteroids, suggest a general signaling mechanism for the LRR receptor kinases of plants. This system should allow the discovery of ligands for the LRR kinases, the largest group of plant receptor kinases.