The cytotoxic effect of different concentrations of titanium particles on osteoblasts was studied in vitro. It was found that the viability of the osteoblasts was inversely proportional to the particle concentration. Phagocytosis of particles by the osteoblasts was evident and was demonstrated to be responsible for cell necrosis. Moreover, during and after phagocytosis, the osteoblasts released products that were cytotoxic for other osteoblasts, as established with a conditioned medium assay. The titanium particles thus had both a direct and an indirect effect on osteoblast viability. It also was observed that the titanium particles induced a process of programmed cell death (apoptosis) when co-cultured with osteoblasts. The results of this study suggest that not only is the amount of wear debris generated important, but the local accumulation of the debris also may have a significant impact on bone cell function.