Apoptotic cell death is considered to be an underlying mechanism in immunosuppression and multiple organ dysfunction after trauma-hemorrhage and sepsis. Although studied intensively over the last decade, the role of other cell death mechanisms under similar pathophysiological conditions has remained elusive. Recently, autophagy has emerged as an important mediator of programmed cell death pathways. Here, we review recent advances in our understanding of apoptosis and autophagy and the crosstalk between these processes. We explore the coexistence of these two processes and the effects of autophagy on apoptosis after trauma-hemorrhage and sepsis. The inter-relationship between autophagy and apoptosis might unveil novel therapeutic approaches for the detection and treatment of trauma-hemorrhage and sepsis. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.