This study assessed whether anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCAs) interfere with the safe deletion of neutrophils by apoptosis and phagocytic clearance. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-primed neutrophils were incubated with normal IgG (N IgG) or ANCA IgG for up to 36 hours. Compared with N IgG, ANCAs accelerated constitutive apoptosis of TNF-alpha primed neutrophils, as assessed by morphology and confirmed by DNA laddering pattern on gel electrophoresis, and accelerated progression to secondary necrosis. The accelerated apoptosis induced by ANCA was dependent on reactive oxygen species generation, as primed neutrophils from patients with chronic granulomatous disease failed to show an effect of ANCAs on apoptosis. However, there was no change in the rate at which neutrophils exhibited annexin V binding, indicating that externalization of phosphatidylserine was not accelerated by ANCAs. Furthermore, when ANCA-treated primed neutrophils were interacted with human or murine peritoneal macrophages after 12 hours there was significantly less phagocytosis by human macrophages and no difference in phagocytosis by murine peritoneal-derived macrophages when compared with N IgG-treated controls. In conclusion, ANCAs accelerate apoptosis and secondary necrosis in TNF-primed neutrophils by a mechanism dependent on the generation of reactive oxygen species, with uncoupling of nuclear and surface membrane changes, resulting in a "reduced window of opportunity" for phagocytic recognition and engulfment before disintegration.