The immune system provides good models for cell death, a phenomenon now recognized to be of fundamental importance in many fields of biology. Cell death is strikingly polymorphic: it can proceed via necrosis (as in complement-mediated cell death) or apoptosis, but the latter displays different patterns (in the receptor-mediated death of some thymocytes, in cell death mediated by TNF alpha or by cytotoxic T cells), perhaps reflecting different pathways of control of a common core mechanism. Even though there are differences in the morphological and metabolic changes associated with the different patterns of apoptosis, some recurrent sequences of events are observed in almost all dying cells. The metabolic state of a cell often seems to play a major role in determining if and how this cell will die in given external circumstances. The nature of molecules causally involved in the dying cell can now be approached in some systems.