Osteoclast differentiation factor (ODF), a novel member of the TNF ligand family, is expressed as a membrane-associated protein by osteoblasts/stromal cells. The soluble form of ODF (sODF) induces the differentiation of osteoclast precursors into osteoclasts in the presence of M-CSF. Here, the effects of sODF on the survival, multinucleation, and pit-forming activity of murine osteoclasts were examined in comparison with those of M-CSF and IL-1. Osteoclast-like cells (OCLs) formed in cocultures of murine osteoblasts and bone marrow cells expressed mRNA of RANK (receptor activator of NF-kappaB), a receptor of ODF. The survival of OCLs was enhanced by the addition of each of sODF, M-CSF, and IL-1. sODF, as well as IL-1, activated NF-kappaB and c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK) in OCLs. Like M-CSF and IL-1, sODF stimulated the survival and multinucleation of prefusion osteoclasts (pOCs) isolated from the coculture. When pOCs were cultured on dentine slices, resorption pits were formed on the slices in the presence of either sODF or IL-1 but not in that of M-CSF. A soluble form of RANK as well as osteoprotegerin/osteoclastogenesis inhibitory factor, a decoy receptor of ODF, blocked OCL formation and prevented the survival, multinucleation, and pit-forming activity of pOCs induced by sODF. These results suggest that ODF regulates not only osteoclast differentiation but also osteoclast function in mice through the receptor RANK.