The BCL-2 gene was first discovered because of its involvement in the t(14;18) chromosomal translocations commonly found in lymphomas, which result in deregulation of BCL-2 gene expression and cause inappropriately high levels of Bcl-2 protein production. Expression of the BCL-2 gene can also become altered in human cancers through other mechanisms, including loss of the p53 tumor suppressor which normally functions as a repressor of BCL-2 gene expression in some tissues. Bcl-2 is a blocker of programmed cell death and apoptosis that contributes to neoplastic cell expansion by preventing cell turnover caused by physiological cell death mechanisms, as opposed to accelerating rates of cell division. Overproduction of the Bcl-2 protein also prevents cell death induced by nearly all cytotoxic anticancer drugs and radiation, thus contributing to treatment failures in patients with some types of cancer. Several homologs of Bcl-2 have recently been discovered, some of which function as inhibitors of cell death and others as promoters of apoptosis that oppose the actions of the Bcl-2 protein. Many of these Bcl-2 family proteins can interact through formation of homo- and heterotypic dimers. In addition, several nonhomologous proteins have been identified that bind to Bcl-2 and that can modulate apoptosis. These protein-protein interactions may eventual serve as targets for pharmacologically manipulating the physiological cell death pathway for treatment of cancer and several other diseases.