The mechanism of bone resorption induced by interleukin 1 (IL-1) was examined in mice using three different in vitro assay systems: a fetal long bone organ culture system, a bone marrow culture system, and a coculture system of primary osteoblastic cell populations and spleen cells. In the organ culture system, recombinant human IL-1 alpha (rhIL-1 alpha) increased both bone resorption and osteoclast number. Both were partially suppressed in the presence of indomethacin. In the marrow culture, both rhIL-1 alpha and rhIL-1 beta stimulated osteoclastlike cell formation, which was completely inhibited by adding indomethacin concurrently. Furthermore, there was a good correlation between the number of osteoclastlike cells formed and the amount of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) released into the culture media. This indicates that PGE2 is involved in the mechanism of IL-1-mediated osteoclastlike cell formation. In the coculture of primary osteoblastic cell populations and spleen cells, rhIL-1 again stimulated osteoclastlike cell formation, which was inhibited by adding indomethacin. In the cocultures in which direct interaction between osteoblastic cells and spleen cells was inhibited, PGE2 synthesis was similarly increased but no osteoclastlike cells were formed. These results indicate that IL-1 induces osteoclast formation by a mechanism involving PG (most likely PGE2). Furthermore, direct interaction between osteoclast progenitors and osteoblastic cells is required in the osteoclast recruitment induced by IL-1.