Acute inflammation is characterized by increased liver output of acute phase proteins (APP). Several cytokines including IL-6, leukemia inhibitory factor, and IL-11 are capable of stimulating APP synthesis by hepatocytes and hepatoma cells. We have tested the activity of a separate and unique cytokine oncostatin M (OM) and have found potent APP-inducing activity of human recombinant OM on hepatocytes. OM acted in a dose-dependent fashion (ED50 5 to 10 ng/ml) in stimulating APP synthesis in human HepG2 cells, rat H35 cells, and primary rat hepatocyte cultures, but not human Hep3B cells. Human OM induced equivalent to or greater responses than IL-6 in HepG2 cells, however, it was less effective than human IL-6 in stimulating rat cells. Northern analysis showed that OM stimulated mRNA levels of haptoglobin and alpha 1-antichymotrypsin in HepG2 cells. OM induced CAT activity in HepG2 cells transfected with CAT constructs containing IL-6-responsive elements, suggesting that OM induces transcription of native proteins through mechanisms involving IL-6-responsive element-like sequences in gene promoters. OM was also shown to act additively with IL-6 or leukemia inhibitory factor and synergistically with glucocorticoid or IL-1 in the induction of specific APP. These results suggest that OM plays a role as a mediator of APP synthesis in inflammatory responses.