Antinuclear autoantibodies (ANAs) derived from patients with systemic autoimmune diseases have proven to be powerful tools in cell and molecular biology, The availability of these autoantibodies has been instrumental in the identification and characterization of a wide range of intracellular proteins involved in essential cellular activities. Recently, these autoantibodies have been used in molecular studies of apoptosis, particularly in the identification of substrates cleaved by proteases of the ICE/CED-3 family during this cell death pathway. The identification of these substrates may help to understand the role of proteolysis in apoptosis. Examples of nuclear autoantigens whose cleavage during apoptosis have been defined using ANAs include the 70 kD protein of the U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particle (U1-70 kD), the nuclear mitotic apparatus protein (NuMA), DNA topoisomerase I, the RNA polymerase I upstream binding factor (UBF), and the catalytic subunit of DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PKcs). The use of ANAs as probes for defining proteolytic events associated with apoptosis promises to yield important insights into the mechanisms driving this cell death pathway.