Abscisic acid (ABA) is a plant hormone that regulates seed dormancy and germination. Seeds undergo changes in both ABA content and sensitivity during seed development and germination in response to internal and external cues. Recent advances in functional genomics have revealed the integral components involved in ABA metabolism (biosynthesis and catabolism) and perception, the core signalling pathway, as well as the factors that trigger ABA-mediated transcription. These allow for comparative studies to be conducted on seeds under different environmental conditions and from different genetic backgrounds. This review summarizes our understanding of the control of ABA content and the responsiveness of seeds to afterripening, light, high temperature and nitrate, with a focus on which tissues are involved in its metabolism and signalling. Also described are the regulators of ABA metabolism and signalling, which potentially act as the node for hormone crosstalk. Integration of such knowledge into the complex and diverse events occurring during seed germination will be the next challenge, which will allow for a clearer understanding of the role of ABA.