[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A variety of naturally occurring autoantibodies (NOAs) have been found in sera of animals and humans. Although their specific homeostatic role in the clearance of altered or senescent cells has been proposed and in vitro studies support such functions, in vivo evidence has been lacking. We studied the effect of affinity-purified human anti-band 3 NOA on the survival of untreated and diamide-treated erythrocytes in normal and complement C3-deficient guinea pigs. In vitro exposure to diamide, an oxidative agent, severely reduced the erythrocyte deformability and increased the amount of high-molecular-weight forms of band 3 protein and band 3-hemoglobin adducts in erythrocyte membranes, thereby markedly shortening the survival of these cells in vivo. Human anti-band 3 NOA bound in a dose-dependent manner to erythrocytes, and binding increased with exposure to diamide. In normal guinea pigs anti-band 3 NOA significantly accelerated the clearance of erythrocytes that were mildly damaged by iodine surface labeling and of those that were further oxidized by diamide. However, the anti-band 3 effect was transient and small. In contrast, anti-band 3 NOA did not significantly alter erythrocyte survival in functionally C3-deficient guinea pigs, thereby supporting the C3b requirement for anti-band 3 NOA activity. On the other hand, a pretreatment of animals with purified human band 3 protein slowed down the clearance of erythrocytes incubated with IgG depleted of anti-band 3 NOA. These results provide the first in vivo evidence of a role for anti-band 3 NOA in the clearance of erythrocytes.