A fundamental aspect in metazoans is the ability of a cell to recognise its positional context within a tissue. This is important in both development and homeostasis, where cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis are strictly controlled to form and maintain tissues. Much information has been generated on how cells receive and interpret adhesion-mediated signals. The non-receptor tyrosine kinase, Fak (focal adhesion kinase) has received much attention with regard to adhesion mediated signalling, including its role in survival. Survival signals are required to suppress the default pathway of apoptosis. The ultimate outcome of apoptotic signalling is the release of factors from the mitochondria into the cytosol. How the defined signalling pathways that control apoptosis converge on the mitochondria is an area with many unresolved questions. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.