BH3-only members of the Bcl-2 intracellular protein family, which include Bim, Bmf, Bik, Bad, Bid, Puma, Noxa and Hrk, mediate many developmentally programmed and induced cytotoxic signals. They have key roles in development, tissue homeostasis, immunity and tumor suppression, and compounds mimicking them are promising anti-cancer agents. Their activity is normally constrained by transcriptional and/or diverse post-transcriptional controls. When activated, these death ligands engage pro-survival Bcl-2-like proteins via the BH3 domain, inactivating their function. Bim and Puma bind all the pro-survival proteins, whereas others, such as Noxa and Bad, engage distinct subsets and exhibit complementary killing. Hence, multiple pro-survival proteins must be inactivated to unleash Bax and Bak, which drive apoptosis. Whether certain BH3-only proteins also directly activate Bax/Bak remains controversial.