The caspases are an evolutionarily conserved family of cysteine proteases, with essential roles in apoptosis or inflammation. Caspase-2 was the second caspase to be cloned and it resembles the prototypical nematode caspase CED-3 more closely than any other mammalian protein. An absence of caspase-2-specific reagents and the subtle phenotype of caspase-2-deficient mice have hampered definition of the physiological role of caspase-2 and identification of factors regulating its activity. Although some data implicate caspase-2 in apoptotic pathways, a link with apoptosis has been less firmly established for caspase-2 than for some other caspases. Emerging evidence suggests that caspase-2 regulates the cell cycle and may act as a tumour suppressor. This article critically reviews the current state of knowledge regarding the biochemistry and biology of this controversial caspase.