Bone resorption is seminal for the physiological remodeling of bone during life. However, this process needs to be strictly controlled; excessive bone resorption results in pathologic bone loss, osteoporosis, and fracture. We describe a control mechanism of bone resorption by the adaptive immune system. CD80/86, a pair of molecules expressed by antigen-presenting cells and involved in T cell costimulation, act as negative regulator for the generation of bone-resorbing osteoclasts. CD80/86-deficient mice were osteopenic because of increased osteoclast differentiation. CD80/86-deficient osteoclasts escaped physiological inhibition by CTLA-4 or regulatory T cells. Mechanistically, engagement of CD80/86 by CTLA-4 induced activation of the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) in osteoclast precursors, which degraded tryptophan and promoted apoptosis. Concordantly, IDO-deficient mice also showed an osteopenic bone phenotype with higher numbers of osteoclast precursors and osteoclasts. Also, IDO-deficient mononuclear cells escaped the anti-osteoclastogenic effect of CTLA-4. This molecular mechanism was also present in humans because targeting CD80/86 by abatacept, a CTLA-4–immunoglobulin fusion protein, reduced, whereas blockade of CTLA-4 by ipilimumab antibody enhanced, the frequency of peripheral osteoclast precursors and osteoclastogenesis. In summary, these data show an important role of the adaptive immune system, in particular T cell CD80/86 costimulation molecules, in the physiological regulation of bone resorption and preservation of bone mass, as well as affect the understanding of the function of current and future drugs fostering or blocking the effects of CTLA-4 in humans.