Programmed cell death (PCD) plays an important part in animal development. It is responsible for eliminating the cells between developing digits, for example, and is involved in hollowing out solid structures to create cavities (reviewed in  ). There are many cases, however, where PCD occurs in developing tissues but its function is unknown. Important examples are seen during the folding, pinching off, and fusion of epithelial sheets during vertebrate morphogenesis, as in the formation of the neural tube and lens vesicle ; PCD is an invariable accompaniment to these processes, but it is unclear whether it is required for the processes to occur or is just an unavoidable consequence of them. There is increasing evidence that PCD in animals is mediated by a family of cysteine proteases, known as caspases, which are thought to act in a proteolytic cascade, cleaving one another and key intracellular proteins to kill the cell in a controlled way  . Inhibitors of caspases are, therefore, potential tools for studying the roles of PCD during animal development  . Here, we show that peptide caspase inhibitors block neural tube closure in explanted chick embryos, suggesting that PCD is required for this crucial developmental process.