Most eukaryotic organisms respond to starvation, nutrient deprivation, and/or stress by increasing the rates of intracellular proteolysis. The amino acids released may be reutilized for synthesis of important proteins, or directly for the production of energy. This enhanced proteolysis is also required for repair of cellular damage due to environmental insults such as heat shock, free radicals, viral infection, or mutation. Finally, intracellular proteolysis is important in determining the steady-state levels of a wide variety of regulatory proteins, particularly those regulating the cell cycle. The ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic system participates in all of these functions. In spite of its cytoplasmic localization, this system is selective and acts only on a limited set of substrates. This review discusses the mechanisms of this selectivity and the potential roles of ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis.