Apoptotic cell death plays a critical role in the development and functioning of the immune system. During differentiation, apoptosis weeds out lymphocytes lacking useful antigen receptors and those expressing dangerous ones. Lymphocyte death is also involved in limiting the magnitude and duration of immune responses to infection. In this review, we describe the role of the Bcl-2 protein family, and to a lesser extent that of death receptors (members of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family with a death domain), in the control of lymphoid and myeloid cell survival. We also consider the pathogenic consequences of failure of apoptosis in the immune system.