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Cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells together constitute a major defence against virus infection, through their ability to induce apoptotic death in infected cells. These cytolytic lymphocytes kill their targets through two principal mechanisms, and one of these, granule exocytosis, is essential for an effective in vivo immune response against many viruses. In recent years, the authors and other investigators have identified several distinct mechanisms that can induce death in a targeted cell. In the present article, it is postulated that the reason for this redundancy of lethal mechanisms is to deal with the array of anti-apoptotic molecules elaborated by viruses to extend the life of infected cells. The fate of such a cell therefore reflects the balance of pro-apoptotic (immune) and anti-apoptotic (viral) strategies that have developed over eons of evolutionary time.