Recently, the use of anabolic agents to enhance bone mass has been a source of interest. Previous work by us suggested that corosolic acid (2alpha-hydroxyursolic acid), an active component of banaba leaves (Lagerstroemia speciosa L.), potentially stimulates the differentiation of mouse osteoblasts. Therefore, the present study investigated whether corosolic acid stimulates osteoblast differentiation, and its possible mechanisms of action. At low concentrations (up to 5 microm), corosolic acid significantly stimulated osteoblast differentiation and mineralization without cytotoxicity. Corosolic acid induced NF-kappaB and MAP kinase activity at an early stage of osteoblast differentiation and increased the activity of the transcription factor AP-1 during late-stage osteoblast differentiation. These results suggest that the anabolic effects of corosolic acid upon osteoblast differentiation could result from its activation of transcription factors and MAP kinases.