Principal component analysis (PCA) is one of the most popular techniques for processing, compressing and visualising data, although its effectiveness is limited by its global linearity. While nonlinear variants of PCA have been proposed, an alternative paradigm is to capture data complexity by a combination of local linear PCA projections. However, conventional PCA does not correspond to a probability density, and so there is no unique way to combine PCA models. Previous attempts to formulate mixture models for PCA have therefore to some extent been ad hoc. In this paper, PCA is formulated within a maximum-likelihood framework, based on a specific form of Gaussian latent variable model. This leads to a well-defined mixture model for probabilistic principal component analysers, whose parameters can be determined using an EM algorithm. We discuss the advantages of this model in the context of clustering, density modelling and local dimensionality reduction, and we demonstrate its application to image compression and handwritten digit recognition.