Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is the prototypic member of the TNF ligand family and has a key role in the regulation of inflammatory processes. TNF exerts its functions by interaction with the death domain-containing TNF-receptor 1 (TNF-R1) and the non-death domain-containing TNF-receptor 2 (TNF-R2), both members of a receptor family complementary to the TNF ligand family. Due to the prototypic features of the TNF receptors and their importance for the regulation of inflammation, the signal transduction mechanisms utilized by these receptors have been extensively studied. Several proteins that interact directly or indirectly with the cytoplasmic domains of TNF-R1 and TNF-R2 have been identified in the recent years giving ideas how these receptors are connected to the apoptotic pathway and the signaling cascades leading to activation of NF-kappaB and JNK. Of special interest are TNF receptor-associated factor (TRAF) 1 and 2, which defines a novel group of adaptor proteins involved in signal transduction by most members of the TNF receptor family, of IL-1 receptor and IL-17 receptor as well as some members of the TOLL-like receptor family. TRAF 2 is currently the best-characterized TRAF family member, having a key role in mediating TNF-R1-induced activation of NF-kappaB and JNK. Moreover, recent studies suggest that TRAF 2 represents an integration point for pro- and antiapoptotic signals. This review focuses on the molecular mechanisms that underlay signal initiation by TNF-R1 and TNF-R2, with particular consideration of the role of TRAF 2, and highlights the importance of this molecule for the integration of such antagonizing pathways as death induction and NF-kappaB-mediated surviving signals.