PUMA (p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis) is a Bcl-2 homology 3 (BH3)-only Bcl-2 family member and a critical mediator of p53-dependent and -independent apoptosis induced by a wide variety of stimuli, including genotoxic stress, deregulated oncogene expression, toxins, altered redox status, growth factor/cytokine withdrawal and infection. It serves as a proximal signaling molecule whose expression is regulated by transcription factors in response to these stimuli. PUMA transduces death signals primarily to the mitochondria, where it acts indirectly on the Bcl-2 family members Bax and/or Bak by relieving the inhibition imposed by antiapoptotic members. It directly binds and antagonizes all known antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family members to induce mitochondrial dysfunction and caspase activation. PUMA ablation or inhibition leads to apoptosis deficiency underlying increased risks for cancer development and therapeutic resistance. Although elevated PUMA expression elicits profound chemo- and radiosensitization in cancer cells, inhibition of PUMA expression may be useful for curbing excessive cell death associated with tissue injury and degenerative diseases. Therefore, PUMA is a general sensor of cell death stimuli and a promising drug target for cancer therapy and tissue damage.