This review of the role of the mantle lithosphere in plate tectonic processes collates a wide range of recent studies from seismology and numerical modelling. A continually growing catalogue of deep geophysical imaging has illuminated the mantle lithosphere and generated new interpretations of how the lithosphere evolves. We review current ideas about the role of continental mantle lithosphere in plate tectonic processes. Evidence seems to be growing that scarring in the continental mantle lithosphere is ubiquitous, which implies a reassessment of the widely held view that it is the inheritance of crustal structure only (rather than the lithosphere as a whole) that is most important in the conventional theory of plate tectonics (e.g. the Wilson cycle). Recent studies have interpreted mantle lithosphere heterogeneities to be pre-existing structures and, as such, linked to the Wilson cycle and inheritance. We consider the current fundamental questions in the role of the mantle lithosphere in causing tectonic deformation, reviewing recent results and highlighting the potential of the deep lithosphere in infiltrating every aspect of plate tectonics processes.