A condition closely resembling human melanosis coli was induced in the guinea pig large intestine by daily oral administration of the anthraquinone danthron. Each treatment caused a transient, dose-related wave of apoptosis of the colonic surface epithelial cells. Most of the resulting apoptotic bodies were phagocytosed by intraepithelial macrophages and carried by them through fenestrae in the epithelial basement membrane to the lamina propria. Here, the apoptotic bodies were transformed into typical lipofuscin pigment in macrophage heterolysosomes. Continued danthron administration caused progressive accumulation of pigmented macrophages in the bowel wall, whereas ongoing migration of pigmented macrophages to regional lymph nodes resulted, after danthron was ceased, in sequential loss of the pigmented cells from the superficial and deep lamina propria. Examination of colonic biopsies from patients with melanosis coli shows increased numbers of apoptotic bodies in the surface epithelium and lamina propria, suggesting implication of the same cellular processes in the formation of the pigment in man.