Commitment of cells to apoptosis is governed largely by protein-protein interactions between members of the Bcl-2 protein family. Its three sub-families have distinct roles: the BH3-only proteins trigger apoptosis by binding via their BH3 domain to pro-survival relatives, while the pro-apoptotic Bax and Bak have an essential downstream role involving disruption of organellar membranes and induction of caspase activation. The BH3-only proteins act as damage sensors, held inert until their activation by stress signals. Once activated, they were thought to bind promiscuously to pro-survival protein targets but unexpected selectivity has recently emerged from analysis of their interactions. Some BH3-only proteins also bind to Bax and Bak. Whether Bax and Bak are activated directly by these BH3-only proteins, or indirectly as a consequence of BH3-only proteins neutralizing their pro-survival targets is the subject of intense debate. Regardless of this, a detailed understanding of the interactions between family members, which are often selective, has notable implications for designing anti-cancer drugs to target the Bcl-2 family.