Interleukin-1 beta converting enzyme is the first member of a new class of cysteine proteases. The most distinguishing feature of this family is a nearly absolute specificity for cleavage at aspartic acid. This enzyme has been the subject of intense research because of its role in the production of IL-1 beta, a key mediator of inflammation. These studies have culminated in the design of potent inhibitors and determination of its crystal structure. The structure secures the relationship of the enzyme to CED-3, the product of a gene required for programmed cell death in Caenorhabditis elegans, suggesting that members of this family function in cell death in vertebrates.