In sepsis, several cell types (e.g., lymphocytes) undergo apoptosis and have the potential to harm the host if not cleared by professional phagocytes. Apoptotic cells display "eat me" signals such as phosphatidylserine that can be readily recognized by phagocytes. For full engulfment of these cells, binding to integrin alpha(v)beta(3), mediated by the bridging protein, milk fat globule epidermal growth factor-factor VIII (MFG-E8), is necessary. We hypothesized that, in sepsis, phagocytosis of apoptotic cells is impaired due to decreased MFG-E8 expression and that adoptive transfer of exosomes containing MFG-E8 is beneficial. Sepsis was induced in rats by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) and MFG-E8 expression assessed by Western blot 20 h later. Dendritic cells were generated from bone marrow cells, and secreted exosomes were collected and injected into CLP animals. Plasma cytokines (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and thymocyte apoptosis (TC-Ao, annexin V) were assessed. The ability of peritoneal macrophages from septic animals to engulf apoptotic cells was determined in an ex vivo phagocytosis assay. A 10-day survival study was conducted. Cecal ligation and puncture reduced MFG-E8 protein levels in the spleen and liver by 48% and 70%, respectively, and increased TC-Ao by 1.6-fold. Injection of MFG-E8-containing exosomes, however, led to a 33% reduced detection of TC-Ao, without directly inhibiting apoptosis. In fact, peritoneal macrophages from exosome-treated rats displayed a 2.8-fold increased ability to phagocytose apoptotic thymocytes. Inhibition of MFG-E8 before injection of exosomes completely abrogated the enhanced phagocytosis. Treatment with bone marrow dendritic cell-derived exosomes also reduced plasma tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin (IL)-6 levels and improved survival from 44% to 81%. We conclude that, by providing the indispensable factor MFG-E8 for complete engulfment of apoptotic cells, these exosomes lead to an attenuation of the systemic inflammatory response and overall beneficial effect in sepsis.