Bcl-2-related proteins have come to occupy a prominent position in the realm of progmmmed cell death. Members of this fast-growing family are highly related in one or more specific regions, commonly referred to as Bcl-2 homology (BH) domains. BH domains contribute at multiple levels to the function of these proteins in cell death and survival. Particularly intriguing is the emergence of the BH3 domain as a potent 'death domain' and of a growing subclass of pro-apoptotic proteins with no similarity to Bcl-2 beyond their BH3 homology. Here, the authors classify proteins of the Bcl-2 family on the basis of function and domain organization, discuss the importance of the BH3 domain in protein-protein interactions and in cell death and provide possible explanations for the perceived redundancy in the expression of this subclass of death promoters.