Reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) have been implicated as mediators of osteoclastic bone resorption. Xanthine oxidase (XO) a ubiquitous enzyme is widely known for its production of these ROS. We therefore evaluated the potential of XO as a source of ROS in cytokine- and hormone-induced bone resorption. XO activity in rat calvarial osteoblasts was found to be significantly elevated upon stimulation by the cytokines, TNFalpha and IL-1beta. These cytokines also caused a dose related increase in bone resorption of mouse calvariae, which was significantly inhibited by catalase (10 IU/ml). Allopurinol, the competitive inhibitor of XO, also caused a dose related (1-50 muM) inhibition of TNFalpha (20 ng/ml) and (0.01-10 muM) IL-1beta (50 IU/ml)-induced bone resorption, respectively. PTH- and 1,25-(OH)(2) Vitamin D-3-induced bone resorption could also be inhibited by catalase (100 IU/ml) but was unaffected by allopurinol, indicating that another mediator, other than XO, is required for hormone-induced bone resorption. These results demonstrate, that modulation of the redox balance in the bone microenvironment, which contains XO, can affect the bone resorbing process. Therefore, XO may play a pivotal role in cytokine-induced bone resorption and, if manipulated appropriately, could show a therapeutic benefit in inflammatory bone disorders such as RA.