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Increase Speed of Re-rendering section

When we try to re-render a pageBlockSection/outputPanel on a Visualforce page, it takes a lot of time to render the section (almost 40 sec or so). We have used FireBug to nail it down and from our observation it looks like the re-rendering of the section is taking most of the time.
By looking at the Apex System Log, it seems that the methods on the Apex side are also not taking a lot of time, At the most 1 sec or 2 in total.
We are using couple of repeat tags, pageBlockTable and rendering clauses.
Are there any tips/guidelines that we can use to optimize our VF page so that we can reduce the time taken to just re-render the section. ?
Warm Regards
You can control what goes back up to the service using apex:actionRegion.  Focusing on the most narrow possible rerender target(s) should help as well. 40 seconds sounds like there is something else going on here however. Is there an enormous amount of data? Are you running script in your rerender areas?

Also, Firebug is notorious for making page performance exponentially worse. Presumably you are seeing this performance issue with firebug disabled as well.  What is the performance like if you remove the partial page aspect and reload the page entirely on the event?