Apoptosis or programmed cell death of senescent neutrophils leading to their uptake by phagocytes is a general mechanism by which neutrophils may be removed from inflamed sites in vivo, promoting resolution rather than persistence of inflammation. We now report morphological evidence of neutrophil apoptosis leading to uptake by glomerular cells in rats with experimental glomerulonephritis. In addition to confirming that inflammatory macrophages take up apoptotic neutrophils, these studies indicated that glomerular mesangial cells can also participate in this mode of neutrophil clearance. Furthermore, human neutrophils which had been "aged" in vitro so as to undergo apoptosis were ingested by 31.5 +/- 1.3% (mean +/- SE) of cultured human mesangial cells, but there was minimal recognition of freshly isolated neutrophils (2.2 +/- 0.1%). Centrifugal elutriation of aged neutrophil populations yielded fractions with varying degrees of apoptosis (from 11.1 to 79.4%). Uptake of these fractions (by 8.2% to 59.8% of mesangial cells) was closely correlated with apoptosis (r = 0.96, P less than 0.0001). This demonstrated that recognition was dependent upon apoptosis, as in previous reports of macrophage recognition of aged neutrophils. However, by contrast, a partial requirement for serum was observed. These data indicate a hitherto unexpected function for the mesangial cell in clearance of senescent neutrophils from the glomerulus which may supplement inflammatory macrophage uptake of leucocytes undergoing apoptosis.