The present study investigates the involvement of the IL-6 family of cytokines, activation of the transcription factor Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription-3 (STAT3), and the role of Suppressor Of Cytokine Signaling-3 (SOCS3) in regulating excitotoxic neuronal death in vitro. Biochemical evidence demonstrates that in primary cortical neurons and SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells, IL-6 cytokine family members, OSM and IL-6 plus the soluble IL-6R (IL-6/R), prevent NMDA and glutamate-induced neuronal toxicity. As well, OSM and IL-6/R induce tyrosine and serine phosphorylation of STAT3 in primary cortical neurons and SH-SY5Y cells. Studies using Pyridine 6 (P6), a pan-JAK inhibitor, demonstrate that the protective effect of OSM and IL-6/R on neuronal death is mediated by the JAK/STAT3 signaling pathway. In parallel to STAT3 phosphorylation, OSM and IL-6/R induce SOCS3 expression at the mRNA and protein level. P6 treatment inhibits SOCS3 expression, indicating that STAT3 is required for OSM and IL-6/R-induced SOCS3 expression. Lentiviral delivery of SOCS3, an inhibitor of STAT3 signaling, into primary neurons and SH-SY5Y cells inhibits OSM and IL-6/R-induced phosphorylation of STAT3, and also reverses the protective effect of OSM and IL-6/R on NMDA and glutamate-induced neurotoxicity in primary cortical neurons. In addition, treatment with IL-6 cytokines increases expression of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-xL and induces activation of the Akt signaling pathway, which are also negatively regulated by SOCS3 expression. Thus, IL-6/R and OSM-induced SOCS3 expression may be an important factor limiting the neuroprotective effects of activated STAT3 against NMDA and glutamate-induced neurotoxicity. © 2012 Park et al.