Nerve cell death is the central feature of the human neurodegenerative diseases. It has long been thought that nerve cell death in these disorders occurs by way of necrosis, a process characterized by massive transmembrane ion currents, compromise of mitochondrial ATP production, and the formation of high levels of reactive oxygen species combining to induce rapid disruption of organelles, cell swelling, and plasma membrane rupture with a secondary inflammatory response. Nuclear DNA is relatively preserved. Recent evidence now indicates that the process of apoptosis rather than necrosis primarily contributes to nerve cell death in neurodegeneration. This has opened up new avenues for understanding the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration and may lead to new and more effective therapeutic approaches to these diseases.