In the mammalian ovary, follicular development and atresia are closely regulated by cell death and survival-promoting factors, including hormones (gonadotropins) and intraovarian regulators (gonadal steroids, cytokines, and intracellular proteins). Several hundred thousand primordial follicles are present in the mammalian ovary; however, only a limited number of primordial follicles develop to the preovulatory stage and ovulate. The others, more than 99% of follicles, will be eliminated via a degenerative process known as "atresia". The endocrinological regulatory mechanisms involved in follicular development and atresia have been characterized to a large extent, but the precise temporal and molecular mechanisms involved in the regulation of these events have remained largely unknown. Recent studies suggest that the apoptosis of ovarian granulosa cells plays a major role in follicular atresia. In this review, we provide an overview of development and atresia of follicles, and apoptosis of granulosa cells in mammals.