Thrombin stimulates expression of interleukin 6 and cyclooxygenase 2 by osteoblasts, both of which enhance osteoblast-mediated osteoclast differentiation by increasing the ratio of receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand (RANKL) expression to that of osteoprotegerin (OPG) in osteoblasts. We hypothesised that thrombin would also increase this ratio and thereby stimulate osteoclast differentiation in mixed cultures of osteoblastic cells and osteoclast precursors. In primary mouse osteoblasts, but not in bone marrow stromal cells, thrombin increased the ratio of RANKL to OPG expression. Thrombin inhibited differentiation of osteoclasts, defined as tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP)-positive cells with three or more nuclei, in mouse bone marrow cultures treated with osteoclastogenic hormones; this effect was not mediated by the major thrombin receptor, protease-activated receptor 1, nor did it require thrombin's proteolytic activity. Thrombin also caused a decrease in the number of TRAP-positive cells with fewer than three nuclei. Thrombin (active or inactive) also inhibited osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption, respectively, in cultures of mouse spleen cells and human peripheral blood mononuclear cells induced to undergo osteoclastogenesis by treatment with RANKL and macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Osteoclast differentiation in spleen cells was inhibited when they were exposed to thrombin from days 0 to 3 or 3 to 5 of culture but not days 5 to 7 when most fusion occurred. Thrombin inhibited expression of RANK by spleen cells. These observations indicate that, although thrombin stimulates production of osteoclastogenic factors by osteoblastic cells, it inhibits the early stages of RANKL-induced osteoclast differentiation through a direct effect on osteoclast precursors that does not require thrombin's proteolytic activity.