In multicellular organisms homeostasis depends on a balance between cell proliferation and cell death. In this review principles of the physiology of programmed cell death (apoptosis), i.e. biochemical features, involved genes and proteolytic enzymes, are described. Alterations in apoptosis contribute to the pathogenesis of a number of human diseases, including cancer, viral infections, inflammation, hematopoietic and immunological system defects (e.g. AIDS), neurodegenerative disorders. Specific effect on regulation of apoptosis might lead to new possibilities for treatment. Methods of quantitative determinations of apoptosis are discussed.