The HSP90 (heat-shock protein 90) inhibitor 17-AAG (17-allylamino-demethoxygeldanamycin) increases osteoclast formation both in vitro and in vivo, an action that can enhance cancer invasion and growth in the bone microenvironment. The cellular mechanisms through which 17-AAG exerts this action are not understood. Thus we sought to clarify the actions of 17-AAG on osteoclasts and determine whether other HSP90 inhibitors had similar properties. We determined that 17-AAG and the structurally unrelated HSP90 inhibitors CCT018159 and NVP-AUY922 dose-dependently increased RANKL [receptor activator of NF-kappaB (nuclear factor kappaB) ligand]-stimulated osteoclastogenesis in mouse bone marrow and pre-osteoclastic RAW264.7 cell cultures. Moreover, 17-AAG also enhanced RANKL- and TNF (tumour necrosis factor)-elicited osteoclastogenesis, but did not affect RANKL-induced osteoclast survival, suggesting that only differentiation mechanisms are targeted. 17-AAG affected the later stages of progenitor maturation (after 3 days of incubation), whereas the osteoclast formation enhancer TGFbeta (transforming growth factor beta) acted prior to this, suggesting different mechanisms of action. In studies of RANKL-elicited intracellular signalling, 17-AAG treatment did not increase c-Fos or NFAT (nuclear factor of activated T-cells) c1 protein levels nor did 17-AAG increase activity in luciferase-based NF-kappaB- and NFAT-response assays. In contrast, 17-AAG treatment (and RANKL treatment) increased both MITF (microphthalmia-associated transcription factor) protein levels and MITF-dependent vATPase-d2 (V-type proton ATPase subunit d2) gene promoter activity. These results indicate that HSP90 inhibitors enhance osteoclast differentiation in an NFATc1-independent manner that involves elevated MITF levels and activity.