The possible importance of phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase activity in bone resorption activity in vitro and in vivo were evaluated with synthetic wortmannin analogs in two in vitro bone resorption assays, two in vitro assays for PI 3-kinase activity and for the first time, in two in vivo rat models. Wortmannin and LY301497 were shown to be potent, dose-dependent inhibitors of the bone resorption activity of differentiating chicken osteoclast-like cells and isolated rat osteoclasts. A similar structure/activity profile and potency relationship was observed for the inhibition of osteoclastic activity and of bovine PI 3-kinase activity with purified enzyme, as well as direct inhibition of the PI 3-kinase activity of chicken osteoclast lysates. These in vitro data identified LY301497 as an inhibitor of bone resorption that is 10-fold more potent than wortmannin itself, and the most potent inhibitor of PI 3-kinase activity identified thus far. Wortmannin and analogs also lowered the osteoclast-dependent serum calcium levels like salmon calcitonin in a rat model of secondary hyperparathyroidism. More directly, oral administration of wortmannin analogs prevented the estrogen deficiency-induced loss of trabecular bone in the metaphysis of proximal tibiae from ovariectomized rats. Wortmannin, and especially LY301497, compared favorably in potency in vivo to orally administered estrogen. Taken together, these data are strong evidence to show that wortmannin analogs directly block osteoclastic activity in vitro and in vivo, and confirm that PI 3-kinase activity is a necessary step in the regulation of bone resorption. PI 3-kinase activity appears to be an important component of ovariectomy-stimulated bone loss in rats. This mechanism is supported by the finding that wortmannin had little effect on the activity of myosin light chain kinase in intact osteoclasts. The use of LY301497 should prove useful in elucidating specific molecular interactions important in bone resorption and other PI 3-kinase-mediated cell processes. These data also suggest the possible therapeutic utility of wortmannin analogs to treat conditions characterized by excessive bone loss, such as hyperparathyroidism or hypercalcemia of malignency.