Ageing leads to immune system dysfunction and the accumulation of autoantibodies. Because the rapid phagocytic clearance of apoptotic cells is required to prevent the development of autoimmunity, we examined the relative clearance of apoptotic material in young and aged mice using two independent assays. First, 2-year-old mice were found to be impaired in their ability to clear apoptotic keratinocytes following ultraviolet irradiation of the skin. Secondly, peritoneal macrophages exposed to apoptotic Jurkat T cells in vivo displayed diminished phagocytic activity in aged mice compared with 8-week-old mice. Consistent with these findings, aged mice exhibited signs of autoimmunity with the appearance of anti-nuclear antibodies and increased kidney glomerular size as well as complement deposits within the glomeruli. In vitro assays revealed that the pretreatment of macrophages with the serum from aged mice led to a reduction in their ability to phagocytose apoptotic bodies compared with macrophages treated with serum from young mice. These data show that the ageing process is accompanied by a diminished ability to clear apoptotic debris. This accumulation of apoptotic debris could contribute to immune system dysfunction that occurs in aged organisms.