The serum opsonin mannose-binding lectin (MBL) has been shown to be involved in the handling of apoptotic cells. However, at what stage in the process this happens and whether this mediates activation of complement is unknown. Cells rendered apoptotic or necrotic were incubated with purified MBL/MBL-associated serine protease (MASP) complexes and assessed by flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy. MBL bound specifically to late apoptotic cells, as well as to apoptotic blebs and to necrotic cells, but not to early apoptotic cells. Binding of MBL could be inhibited by EDTA as well as with an antibody against the CRD region. Addition of C1q, another serum opsonin involved in the handling of apoptotic cells, prior to MBL partly inhibited MBL binding to apoptotic cells and vice versa. MBL/MASP could initiate deposition of purified complement C4 on the target cells. However, addition of MBL/MASP to whole serum deficient for both C1q and MBL did not enhance deposition of C4, but MBL enhanced phagocytosis of apoptotic cells by macrophages. These results demonstrate that MBL interacts with structures exposed on cells rendered late apoptotic or necrotic and facilitates uptake by macrophages. Thus, MBL may promote non-inflammatory sequestration of dying host cells.