Cell death plays an essential role in the development of tissues and organisms, the etiology of disease, and the responses of cells to therapeutic drugs. Here we review progress made over the last decade in using mathematical models and quantitative, often single-cell, data to study apoptosis. We discuss the delay that follows exposure of cells to prodeath stimuli, control of mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization, switch-like activation of effector caspases, and variability in the timing and probability of death from one cell to the next. Finally, we discuss challenges facing the fields of biochemical modeling and systems pharmacology.
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