Macrophage recruitment into the distal nerve stump of the cut or crushed sciatic or saphenous nerves of C57BL/6J mice was reduced by prior whole body irradiation. This procedure was successful in keeping the numbers of cells stained with the mouse macrophage-specific antibody F4/80 to the levels found in unsectioned nerves. Quantitative image analysis of immunostained sections showed that the rate of loss of myelin basic protein was identical in nerves from irradiated and unirradiated mice up to 5 days but thereafter was slower in macrophage-deprived nerves. Similar analysis of semithin sections stained with toluidine blue detected more undegenerated myelin in the nerves from irradiated mice 10 days after operation. Quantitative counts made from electron micrographs of the sectioned nerves at 7 days also showed slightly less extensive myelin breakdown in the nerves from irradiated mice. Complete removal of myelin from some Schwann cells can occur without macrophages, but macrophages accelerate the removal of myelin in the later stages of Wallerian degeneration. It is concluded that there are two phases to the breakdown of myelin in peripheral nerves undergoing Wallerian degeneration: an initial stage entirely dependent on the activity of Schwann cells and a later stage dependent on both Schwann cells and the presence of macrophages.