Caspase stands for cysteine-dependent aspartate specific protease, and is a term coined to define proteases related to interleukin 1beta converting enzyme and CED-3.1 Thus their enzymatic properties are governed by a dominant specificity for substrates containing Asp, and by the use of a Cys side-chain for catalyzing peptide bond cleavage. The use of a Cys side chain as a nucleophile during peptide bond hydrolysis is common to several protease families. However, the primary specificity for Asp turns out to be very rare among protease families throughout biotic kingdoms. Of all known mammalian proteases only the caspase activator granzyme B, a serine protease, has the same primary specificity. In addition to this unusual primary specificity, caspases are remarkable in that certain of their zymogens have intrinsic proteolytic activity. This latter property is essential to trigger the proteolytic pathways that lead to apoptosis. Here we review the known enzymatic properties of the caspases and their zymogens within the broad context of structure:mechanism:activity relationships of proteases in general.