Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) is a neurocytokine expressed in glial cells that acts on brain cells to promote gene expression, survival, and differentiation. When administered systemically, CNTF reduces food intake and body weight in rodents. Genes encoding suppressors of cytokine signaling (SOCS) are induced by cytokines that activate membrane receptors in the same class as those that are activated by CNTF. We therefore examined the ability of CNTF to induce expression of socs genes in brain and peripheral tissues of rats and mice. Peripheral CNTF administration to ob/ob mice rapidly induced SOCS-3 messenger RNA (mRNA) in hypothalamus, as determined by Northern blotting and quantitative RT-PCR, but had no effect on cytokine-inducible sequence (CIS), SOCS-1, or SOCS-2 mRNA. In situ hybridization histochemistry of hypothalamus from ob/ob mice and normal rats demonstrated that CNTF induced SOCS-3 mRNA in the arcuate nucleus (Arc). Strong hybridization signals were also detected in the ependymal lining of the ventricles and the subfornical organ. This hybridization pattern was distinct from that resulting from peripheral leptin treatment with overlapping hybridization patterns only in the Arc. CNTF also induced expression of CIS, SOCS-1, SOCS-2, and SOCS-3 mRNA in the liver, and SOCS-2 and SOCS-3 mRNA in the kidney. CNTF induced SOCS-3 mRNA and SOCS-3 protein levels in an astrocyte cell line. Transient expression of SOCS-3, but not CIS or SOCS-2, inhibited CNTF-induced signal transduction in astrocytes. In conclusion, SOCS-3 mRNA is specifically induced by CNTF in regions of the hypothalamus that are both overlapping and distinct from that induced by leptin. Similar to leptin, the Arc is likely to be a direct target of CNTF, and this region may play a role in the body weight-reducing effects of CNTF. SOCS-3 is a negative regulator of CNTF signal transduction, and inhibitors of SOCS-3 function may enhance endogenous CNTF signaling after neuronal injury or enhance the body weight-reducing effect of CNTF after peripheral administration.