Numerous studies have indicated that inflammatory cytokines play a major role in osteoclastogenesis, leading to the bone resorption that is frequently associated with osteoporosis. Paeonol (2'-hydroxy-4'-methoxyacetophenone), the main active compound of the traditionally used Chinese herb Paeonia lactiflora Pallas, has anti-inflammatory activity. Here we found that paeonol markedly inhibited the receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa B ligand (RANKL) plus macrophage colony stimulating factor (M-CSF)-induced osteoclastic differentiation from bone marrow stromal cells and RAW264.7 macrophage cells. In addition, in an assay of osteoclast activity on substrate plates, paeonol significantly decreased the resorption activity of mature osteoclasts. Treatment of RAW264.7 macrophages with RANKL induced extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK), p38 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) phosphorylation. However, RANKL-induced ERK, p38 but not JNK phosphorylation was attenuated by paeonol. Furthermore, RANKL-mediated increase of IkappaBalpha phosphorylation, p65 phosphorylation at Ser(536), kappaB-luciferase activity and NF-kappaB binding activity was inhibited by paeonol. In addition, paeonol also prevented the bone loss inducing by ovariectomy in vivo. Our data suggest that paeonol inhibits osteoclastogenesis from bone marrow stromal cells and macrophage cells via attenuated of RANKL-induced ERK, p38 and NF-kappaB activation, which in turn protect bone loss from ovariectomy.