Oxygen derived free radicals are generated by osteoclasts. In a novel culture system, isolated rat osteoclasts were stained when nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT) was reduced by cellular oxidants to formazan, an insoluble precipitate. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) inhibited the accumulation of formazan by the isolated osteoclasts. Osteoclasts in mouse calvarial organ cultures also reduced NBT to formazan. The reaction products were localized to the area of the osteoclast-bone interface. At the light microscopic level, the formazan granules appeared to be concentrated within the cytoplasm. Formazan accumulation was significantly inhibited by calcitonin (hCT). The inhibition of NBT reduction by SOD indicates that the isolated osteoclasts were capable of producing superoxide. The localization of the formazan granules between the external osteoclastic membrane and the bone, and the inhibition of this reaction during hCT exposure suggests that oxygen derived free radicals may contribute to bone resorption.