Effective removal of dying cells is crucial to a variety of processes in health and disease. Cells undergoing apoptosis are recognized and ingested intact by phagocytes, which are not stimulated to release inflammatory mediators. The alternative uncontrolled form of cell death, necrosis, is associated with release of cell contents with the potential to cause tissue damage and inflammation. Four distinct molecular mechanisms have been identified to date which mediate recognition by phagocytes of mammalian cells undergoing apoptosis, but further mechanisms remain to be discovered. The capacity for phagocyte removal of cells undergoing apoptosis may be closely regulated, for example by local cytokines.