Dysregulation of life and death at the cellular level leads to a variety of diseases. In the nervous system, aberrant neuronal death is an outstanding feature of neurodegenerative diseases. Since the discovery of the caspase family of proteases, much effort has been made to determine how caspases function in disease, including neurodegenerative diseases. Although many papers have been published examining caspases in neuronal death and disease, the pathways have not been fully clarified. In the present review, we examine the potential players in the death pathways, the current tools for examining these players and the models for studying neurological disease. Alzheimer's disease, the most common neurodegenerative disorder, and cerebral ischaemia, the most common cause of neurological death, are used to illustrate our current understanding of death signalling in neurodegenerative diseases. A better understanding of the neuronal death pathways would provide targets for the development of therapeutic interventions for these diseases.

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