When nematodes invade and subsequently migrate within plant roots, they generate cell wall fragments (in the form of oligogalacturonides; OGs) that can act as damage-associated molecular patterns and activate host defence responses. However, the molecular mechanisms mediating damage responses in plant–nematode interactions remain unexplored. Here, we characterized the role of a group of cell wall receptor proteins in Arabidopsis, designated as polygalacturonase-inhibiting proteins (PGIPs), during infection with the cyst nematode Heterodera schachtii and the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita. PGIPs are encoded by a family of two genes in Arabidopsis, and are involved in the formation of active OG elicitors. Our results show that PGIP gene expression is strongly induced in response to cyst nematode invasion of roots. Analyses of loss-of-function mutants and overexpression lines revealed that PGIP1 expression attenuates infection of host roots by cyst nematodes, but not root-knot nematodes. The PGIP1-mediated attenuation of cyst nematode infection involves the activation of plant camalexin and indole-glucosinolate pathways. These combined results provide new insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying plant damage perception and response pathways during infection by cyst and root-knot nematodes, and establishes the function of PGIP in plant resistance to cyst nematodes.