Phagocyte recognition of cells that have undergone apoptosis (programmed cell death) is an event of broad biological significance. Characterized by endogenous endonuclease activation, which results in chromatin fragmentation and nuclear condensation, apoptosis leads to swift ingestion of intact but 'senescent' or 'unwanted' cells by phagocytes in processes as diverse as the physiological involution of organs, the remodelling of embryonic tissues, and metamorphosis. The cell-surface mechanisms by which macrophages recognize apoptotic cells as 'senescent-self' have remained obscure. Here we report that macrophage recognition of apoptotic cells (both neutrophils and lymphocytes) is mediated by the vitronectin receptor, a heterodimer belonging to the beta 3 or cytoadhesin family of the integrins. Previously, the functions of the vitronectin receptor were believed to be limited to cell anchorage, but our findings indicate that the receptor has a novel and direct role in self-senescent-self intercellular recognition leading to macrophage phagocytosis of cells undergoing apoptosis.