The cause of neuronal death in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other neurodegenerative diseases is not known, except in some hereditary forms of these disorders in which a mutated gene has been identified. Even in these cases, the molecular mechanisms that underlie the loss of specific populations of neurons have not been determined, although it is highly probable that apoptosis is involved. Some of the biochemical events that occur during apoptosis have been elucidated. We focus in this review on the role played by the proapoptotic caspases, the antiapoptotic proteins of the Bcl-2 family, and the apoptosis associated signal transducers such as ceramide, calcium, and reactive nitrogen or oxygen species. The role of the mitochondria and the possible implication of cell cycle regulators will also be addressed. Of particular interest are the endogenous inhibitory mechanisms and the pharmacologic agents that can be used to block apoptosis signaling cascades, because they offer models for the development of therapeutic strategies designed to prevent the evolution of pathologic neurodegeneration.