Premature cell death can result either from cell injury or degeneration, leading to necrosis, or from the activation of a physiological cell-suicide process, termed programmed cell death or apoptosis, that is regulated by intercellular signalling. This process plays an essential role in the selection of developing lymphocytes, and is also involved in the function of the mature adaptative immune system. A growing number of experimental findings during the last 4 years has provided support to our hypothesis that inappropriate HIV-mediated dysregulation of programmed T-cell death is relevant to AIDS pathogenesis. A series of recent experimental results also supports the general concept that the persistence and pathogenesis of several infectious pathogens, ranging from retroviruses to parasites, may be related to their capacity to dysregulate programmed cell death in various cell populations including lymphocytes. Subversion by pathogens of the physiological control of programmed cell death provides a paradigm for the pathogenesis of a wide range of infectious diseases that involve immune dysregulation and suggests therapeutic potential for the in vivo modulation of cell signalling.