Osteoporosis, a disease endemic in Western society, typically reflects an imbalance in skeletal turnover so that bone resorption exceeds bone formation. Bone resorption is the unique function of the osteoclast, and anti-osteoporosis therapy to date has targeted this cell. The osteoclast is a specialized macrophage polykaryon whose differentiation is principally regulated by macrophage colony-stimulating factor, RANK ligand, and osteoprotegerin. Reflecting integrin-mediated signals, the osteoclast develops a specialized cytoskeleton that permits it to establish an isolated microenvironment between itself and bone, wherein matrix degradation occurs by a process involving proton transport. Osteopetrotic mutants have provided a wealth of information about the genes that regulate the differentiation of osteoclasts and their capacity to resorb bone.