There is an urgent need for therapies for retinal diseases; retinitis pigmentosa sufferers have no treatment options available and those targeted at other retinopathies have shown limited effectiveness. The process of programmed cell death or apoptosis although complex, remains a possible target for the treatment of retinal diseases. Having identified apoptosis in the vertebrate retina in populations of immature neurons as an essential part of development it was proposed that re-activation of these developmental cell death pathways might provide insight into the death mechanisms operating in retinal diseases. However, the discovery that numerous factors initiate and mediate the apoptotic cascade in mature photoreceptors has resulted in a relatively untargeted approach to examining and arresting apoptosis in the retina. In the last 5 years, mouse models have been treated with a diverse range of drugs or factors including anti-oxidants, growth factors, steroid hormones, calcium/calpain inhibitors and tetracycline antibiotics. Therefore to draw a unifying theme from these broad research areas is challenging. However, this review focusses on two targets which are currently under investigation, reactive oxygen species and mammalian target of rapamycin, drawing together the common themes of these research areas. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.