The pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin (IL)-6 (refs. 1-5) can bind to cells lacking the IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) when it forms a complex with the soluble IL-6R (sIL-6R) (trans signaling). Here, we have assessed the contribution of this system to the increased resistance of mucosal T cells against apoptosis in Crohn disease (CD), a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. A neutralizing antibody against IL-6R suppressed established experimental colitis in various animal models of CD mediated by type 1 T-helper cells, by inducing apoptosis of lamina propria T cells. Similarly, specific neutralization of sIL-6R in vivo by a newly designed gp130-Fc fusion protein caused suppression of colitis activity and induction of apoptosis, indicating that sIL-6R prevents mucosal T-cell apoptosis. In patients with CD, mucosal T cells showed strong evidence for IL-6 trans signaling, with activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3, bcl-2 and bcl-xl. Blockade of IL-6 trans signaling caused T-cell apoptosis, indicating that the IL-6-sIL-6R system mediates the resistance of T cells to apoptosis in CD. These data indicate that a pathway of T-cell activation driven by IL-6-sIL-6R contributes to the perpetuation of chronic intestinal inflammation. Specific targeting of this pathway may be a promising new approach for the treatment of CD.