Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a pleitrophic cytokine that not only regulates growth and differentiation of many cell types, but also induces production of acute phase proteins (AAP) in hepatocytes. Our previous works have demonstrated that both PI 3-K/Akt and STAT3 pathways were concomitantly activated and cooperatively mediated the anti-apoptotic effect of IL-6. This investigation reports that IL-6 protected cells against apoptosis induced by a variety of agents including, TGF-beta, UV and retinoic acid (RA) in Hep3B cells, suggesting that IL-6 is a fundamental determinant of hepatic cell survival. Mcl-1, but not other Bcl-2 family members, was rapidly up-regulated by IL-6, with a peak (approximately 3-4-fold) appearing at 4 h. Transient transfection of cells with a mcl-1 antisense vector, resulting in a 50-60% reduction of the anti-apoptotic effect of IL-6, indicating that Mcl-1 is a downstream effector of IL-6. Which signaling pathway transduced by IL-6 responsible for the Mcl-1 up-regulation was further investigated. In Hep3B cells, the JAK/STAT3, ERK, and PI 3-K/Akt pathways were activated by IL-6 stimulation. Blocking JAK/STAT3 activation with a dominant-negative mutant STAT3F or a JAK inhibitor AG490 could not influence IL-6-mediated Mcl-1 up-regulation. Similarly, PD98059 treatment, a MEK specific inhibitor, also failed to inhibit Mcl-1 expression. However, the IL-6-induced Mcl-1 up-regulation was effectively attenuated in the presence of PI 3-K inhibitors, LY294002 and wortmannin. Expression of dominant-negative Akt, but not Etk, could abrogate the IL-6-induced increase of Mcl-1. In conclusion, our results suggest that the anti-apoptotic effect of IL-6 is mediated, at least in part, by Mcl-1 expression and that is mainly through the PI 3-K/ Akt-dependent pathway.