Apoptosis plays a pivotal role in tissue homoeostasis both under physiological and pathological conditions and several studies have shown that some characteristic changes in the composition and structure of the inflamed synovial membrane in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are linked to an altered apoptotic response of synovial cells. As a result, a hyperplastic synovial tissue is generated that mediates the progressive destruction of articular cartilage and bone. In addition to inflammatory cells, these changes most prominently affect resident fibroblast-like cells that have been demonstrated to be of utmost importance for joint destruction. Once activated, these cells pass through prominent molecular changes resulting in an aggressive, invasive behaviour. Research of the past years has identified different mechanisms that prevent synovial cells in RA from apoptosis. They include changes in the mitochondrial pathway as well as altered expression of downstream modulators of death receptors and transcriptional regulators such as NFkappaB. This review summarises our recent progress in understanding aberrant apoptosis in the RA synovial membrane and points to possibilities of intervening specifically with this aspect of the pathogenesis of RA.