Two major pathways of programmed cell death (PCD)--the apoptotic and the autophagic cell death--were investigated in the decomposition process of the larval fat body during the 5th larval stage of Manduca sexta. Several basic aspects of apoptotic and autophagic cell death were analyzed by morphological and biochemical methods in order to disclose whether these mechanisms do have shared common regulatory steps. Morphological examination revealed the definite autophagic wave started on day 4 followed by DNA fragmentation as demonstrated by agarose gel electrophoresis and TUNEL assay. By the end of the wandering period the cells were filled with autophagic vacuoles and protein granules of heterophagic origin and the vast majority of the nuclei were TUNEL-positive. No evidence was found of other aspects of apoptosis, e.g. activation of executioner caspases. Close correlation was disclosed between the onset of autophagy and the nuclear accumulation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system.