Postmenopausal osteoporosis and rheumatoid joint destruction result from increased osteoclast formation and bone resorption induced by receptor activator of NF-kappaB ligand (RANKL) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Osteoclast formation induced by these cytokines requires NF-kappaB p50 and p52, c-Fos, and NFATc1 expression in osteoclast precursors. c-Fos induces NFATc1, but the relationship between NF-kappaB and these other transcription factors in osteoclastogenesis remains poorly understood. We report that RANKL and TNF can induce osteoclast formation directly from NF-kappaB p50/p52 double knockout (dKO) osteoclast precursors when either c-Fos or NFATc1 is expressed. RANKL- or TNF-induced c-Fos up-regulation and activation are abolished in dKO cells and in wild-type cells treated with an NF-kappaB inhibitor. c-Fos expression requires concomitant RANKL or TNF treatment to induce NFATc1 activation in the dKO cells. Furthermore, c-Fos expression increases the number and resorptive capacity of wild-type osteoclasts induced by TNF in vitro. We conclude that NF-kappaB controls early osteoclast differentiation from precursors induced directly by RANKL and TNF, leading to activation of c-Fos followed by NFATc1. Inhibition of NF-kappaB should prevent RANKL- and TNF-induced bone resorption.