Berberine, an isoquinoline alkaloid isolated from several medicinal plants, has been reported to possess anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties. Although berberine also inhibits osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption, the molecular machinery for its inhibitory effects remains unknown. This study focused on the suppressive effects of berberine on receptor activator of nuclear factor kappaB (NF-kappaB) ligand (RANKL)-induced osteoclastogenesis and survival. Berberine inhibited RANKL-mediated osteoclast formation and survival while having no cytotoxic effects on bone marrow macrophages or osteoblastic cells. Berberine attenuated RANKL-induced activation of NF-kappaB through inhibiting phosphorylation at the activation loop of IkappaBalpha kinase beta, phosphorylation and degradation of IkappaBalpha, and NF-kappaB p65 nuclear translocation. RANKL-induced Akt phosphorylation was strongly inhibited by berberine; however, neither monocyte/macrophage-colony stimulating factor (M-CSF)-induced nor insulin-induced Akt activation was inhibited by the drug. Under M-CSF- and RANKL-deprived condition, berberine increased the active form of caspase-3 in osteoclasts. By contrast, berberine did not potentiate the activation of caspase-3 in M-CSF-deprived bone marrow macrophages. These findings indicate that berberine inhibits osteoclast formation and survival through suppression of NF-kappaB and Akt activation and that both pathways in the osteoclast lineage are highly sensitive to berberine treatment.