A variety of conditions lead to skeletal muscle atrophy including muscle inactivity or disuse, multiple disease states (i.e., cachexia), fasting, and age-associated atrophy (sarcopenia). Given the impact on mobility in the latter conditions, inactivity could contribute in a secondary manner to muscle atrophy. Because different events initiate atrophy in these different conditions, it seems that the regulation of protein loss may be unique in each case. In fact differences exist between the regulation of the various atrophy conditions, especially sarcopenia, as evidenced in part by comparisons of transcriptional profiles as well as by the unique triggering molecules found in each case. By contrast, recent studies have shown that many of the intracellular signaling molecules and target genes are similar, particularly among the atrophies related to inactivity and cachexia. This review focuses on the most recent findings related to intracellular signaling during muscle atrophy. Key findings are discussed that relate to signaling involving muscle ubiquitin ligases, the IGF/PI3K/Akt pathway, FOXO activity, caspase-3 activity, and NF-kappaB signaling, and an attempt is made to construct a unifying picture of how these data can be connected to better understand atrophy. Once more detailed cellular mechanisms of the atrophy process are understood, more specific interventions can be designed for the attenuation of protein loss.