Osteoclasts degrade bone by pumping molar quantities of HCl to dissolve the calcium salts of bone, an energy intensive process evidently supported by abundant mitochondria. This is the first study to directly examine the ability of various metabolites to serve as potential energy sources for osteoclastic bone resorption. Glucose, and to a lesser extent lactate, supported osteoclastic bone degradation. However, fatty acids (palmitate, myristate and stearate), essential amino acids plus 20 mM alanine, or ketone bodies (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and alpha-ketoglutarate) did not support bone degradation. Resorption declined to 10-30% of glucose controls when fatty acids or ketoacids were substituted for glucose. Resorption was glucose concentration dependent, with maximal activity at approximately 7 mM (K(M) approximately 3 mM). Glucose transport was linear for approximately 15 minutes, specific for D-glucose, and inhibited by cytochalasin B. Osteoclasts cultured on bone transported glucose at almost twice the rate of those off bone (Vmax 23 versus 13 nmols/mg/min, respectively) and medium acid accumulation paralleled glucose uptake, while the K(M) was unchanged. We conclude that glucose is the principal energy source required for bone degradation. Further, characteristics of glucose transport are consistent with the hypothesis that fluctuations in serum glucose concentration are an important component in regulation of osteoclastic bone degradation.