The present study was performed to elucidate whether sterically stabilized liposomes laden with clodronate, which lead to depletion of macrophages (Mphis) and amelioration of experimental autoimmune arthritis in vivo, selectively affect cells of the mphi lineage in vitro. The rates of incorporation of drug-free, fluorescent liposomes and the rates of cell death following exposure to clodronate-liposomes were assessed in human peripheral blood monocytes, as well as in polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs), T cells, endothelial cells, and fibroblasts, both at rest and following activation. Gel electrophoresis of nuclear extracts and ultrastructural analyses were performed to identify the modality of cell death. Monocytes, particularly upon activation, were more efficient in incorporating sterically stabilized liposomes than all other cells except PMNs. Twenty percent of resting monocytes and up to 65% of activated monocytes died within 24 h of exposure to clodronate-liposomes, whereas the other cell types, including PMNs, remained unaffected. Activated monocytes exposed to clodronate-liposomes, but not resting or activated monocytes exposed to drug-free liposomes, showed clear signs of apoptotic cell death. In most of the assays, sterically stabilized liposomes were more efficient than conventional phosphatidylcholine-liposomes. Sterically stabilized clodronate-liposomes preferentially affect cells of the mphi lineage, particularly if activated. Selective elimination of activated Mphis by apoptosis may explain both therapeutic efficacy and safety of clodronate-liposomes in experimental models of autoimmunity.