Clinical investigations have revealed that infusion of immunotherapeutic mAbs directed to normal or tumor cells can lead to loss of targeted epitopes, a phenomenon called antigenic modulation. Recently, we reported that rituximab treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients induced substantial loss of CD20 on B cells found in the circulation after rituximab infusion, when rituximab plasma concentrations were high. Such antigenic modulation can severely compromise therapeutic efficacy, and we postulated that B cells had been stripped (shaved) of the rituximab/CD20 complex by monocytes or macrophages in a reaction mediated by FcgammaR. We developed an in vitro model to replicate this in vivo shaving process, based on reacting rituximab-opsonized CD20(+) cells with acceptor THP-1 monocytes. After 45 min at 37 degrees C, rituximab and CD20 are removed from opsonized cells, and both are demonstrable on acceptor THP-1 cells. The reaction occurs equally well in the presence and absence of normal human serum, and monocytes isolated from peripheral blood also promote shaving of CD20 from rituximab-opsonized cells. Tests with inhibitors and use of F(ab')(2) of rituximab indicate transfer of rituximab/CD20 complexes to THP-1 cells is mediated by FcgammaR. Antigenic modulation described in previous reports may have been mediated by such shaving, and our findings may have profound implications for the use of mAbs in the immunotherapy of cancer.