Interleukin-34 (IL-34) is a newly discovered regulator of myeloid lineage differentiation, proliferation, and survival, acting via the macrophage-colony stimulating factor receptor (M-CSF receptor, c-fms). M-CSF, the main ligand for c-fms, is required for osteoclastogenesis and has been already identified as a critical contributor of the pathogenesis of giant cell tumours of bone (GCTs), tumours rich in osteoclasts. According to the key role of M-CSF in osteoclastogenesis and GCTs, the expression of IL-34 in human GCTs was first assessed. Quantitative analysis of IL-34 mRNA expression in 14 human GCTs revealed expression of this cytokine in GCTs as well as M-CSF and c-fms. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated that osteoclast-like cells exhibited a huge immunostaining for IL-34 and that mononuclear stromal cells were slightly positive for this protein. In contrast to osteoblasts, bone-resorbing osteoclasts showed very strong staining for IL-34, suggesting its potential role in the pathogenesis of GCTs by facilitating osteoclast formation. The role of IL-34 in osteoclastogenesis was then studied in murine and human models. IL-34 was able to support RANKL-induced osteoclastogenesis in the absence of M-CSF in all models. Multinucleated cells generated in the presence of IL-34 and RANKL expressed specific osteoclastic markers and resorbed dentine. IL-34 induced phosphorylation of ERK 1/2 and Akt through the activation of c-fms, as revealed by the inhibition of signalling by a specific c-fms tyrosine kinase inhibitor. Furthermore, IL-34 stimulated RANKL-induced osteoclastogenesis by promoting the adhesion and proliferation of osteoclast progenitors, and had no effect on osteoclast survival. Overall, these data reveal that IL-34 can be entirely substituted for M-CSF in RANKL-induced osteoclastogenesis, thus identifying a new biological activity for this cytokine and a contribution to the pathogenesis of GCTs. Copyright © 2010 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.