Oncostatin M (OsM) is a member of the interleukin (IL)-6 family of cytokines and is well known for its role in inflammation, cell proliferation, and hematopoiesis. OsM, together with its glycoprotein 130 containing receptor complex, is expressed and regulated in most cells of the central nervous system (CNS), yet the function of OsM within this compartment is poorly understood. Here we have investigated the effect of OsM using in vitro and in vivo models of excitotoxic injury. Using primary cultures of mouse cortical neurons, OsM was shown to reduce N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) -induced neuronal death by 50% when added simultaneously with NMDA while pretreatment of neurons with OsM fully prevented NMDA toxicity indicating a profound protective effect of this cytokine. OsM was also shown to inhibit NMDA-mediated increase in levels of free intracellular calcium and to selectively reduce neuronal expression of the NR2C subunit of the NMDA receptor. Finally, using an in vivo model of excitotoxic injury, OsM significantly reduced the NMDA-induced lesion volume when coinjected with NMDA into the mouse striatum. Taken together, these results identify OsM as a powerful neuroprotective cytokine and provide a rational foundation to explore the therapeutic potential for OsM in diseases of the CNS.