The generation of prosthetic implant wear after total joint arthroplasty is recognized as the major initiating event in development of periprosthetic osteolysis and aseptic loosening, the leading complication of this otherwise successful surgical procedure. We review current concepts of how wear debris causes osteolysis, and report ideas for prevention and treatment. Wear debris primarily targets macrophages and osteoclast precursor cells, although osteoblasts, fibroblasts, and lymphocytes also may be involved. Molecular responses include activation of MAP kinase pathways, transcription factors (including NFκB), and suppressors of cytokine signaling. This results in up-regulation of proinflammatory signaling and inhibition of the protective actions of antiosteoclastogenic cytokines such as interferon gamma. Strategies to reduce osteolysis by choosing bearing surface materials with reduced wear properties should be balanced by awareness that reducing particle size may increase biologic activity. There are no approved treatments for osteolysis despite the promise of therapeutic agents against proinflammatory mediators (such as tumor necrosis factor) and osteoclasts (bisphosphonates and molecules blocking receptor activator of NFkappaB ligand [RANKL] signaling) shown in animal models. Considerable efforts are underway to develop such therapies, to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention, and to develop effective outcome measures.