Icariin is a prenylated flavonol glycoside contained in the herb Epimedium, which has long been used to improve bone fracture healing or prevent osteoporosis because of the belief that the herb has bone-strengthening action. We have previously demonstrated that icariin enhances the osteogenic differentiation of rat bone marrow stromal cells, and partially explained the bone-strengthening mechanism of the herb. In the present study, the effect of icariin on osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption activity was investigated in mouse bone marrow culture. It was found that icariin dose-dependently inhibited the growth and differentiation of hemopoietic cells from which osteoclasts were formed. Far less TRAP+ multinuclear cells appeared in the 10 microM icariin group than in the control. The bone resorption pits formed in the 10 microM icariin group was also significantly less than that of the control. RT-PCR analysis showed that the gene expression of TRAP, RANK and CTR was obviously lower than that of the control. It can be concluded that icariin has the ability to inhibit the formation and bone resorption activity of osteoclasts, which suggests that icariin should be the effective component for the bone-strengthening action of herb Epimedium.