The role of the plate boundary in a continental collisional setting is investigated by lithospheric-scale analogue models. Key variables in this study are the degree of coupling at the plate interface and along the Moho of the lower plate as well as the geometry of the plate contact. They control the onset of intra plate deformation, orogenic architecture, amount of mantle lithosphere subduction and basin development. In all experiments, deformation initiates at the plate interface by the formation of a pop-up structure. A vertical plate boundary with respect to the shortening direction results in buckling of the lithosphere, whereas experiments with an inclined plate boundary show underthrusting and foreland basin development without orogenic wedge formation. Continental collision and coinciding mantle lithosphere subduction may occur only if the lower crust of the foreland plate is weak enough promoting crust-mantle decoupling. During decoupling the weak lower crust beneath the orogen thickens significantly by ductile flow as it detaches from the down going mantle lithosphere. This lower crustal thickening effects the distribution of upper crustal deformation and topography. Subduction of weak lower crust is favored when the weak plate interface has a significant thickness (~ 15 km in nature) and a high amount of shortening is applied. Increasing coupling at the plate interface through time leads to intra plate deformation by thickening and gentle folding and influences surface uplift and subsidence above the plate interface. The transition from a mechanically decoupled plate boundary with a significant amount of mantle lithosphere subduction towards stronger plate coupling resulting in intra plate deformation and topography development can be recorded in for instance the Caucasus, the Colombian Cordillera, the Pyrenees and the Alps. Thickening of the lower crust as portrayed for the Western Alps does not demand a strong, frictional-type behavior of the lower crust, but can also be the consequence of ductile processes. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.