Renal ischemia reperfusion (IR) injury causes renal tubular necrosis, apoptosis, and inflammation leading to acute and chronic kidney dysfunction. IL-11 is a multifunctional hematopoietic cytokine clinically approved to treat chemotherapy-induced thrombocytopenia. Recent studies suggest that IL-11 also has potent antiapoptotic and antinecrotic properties. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that exogenous IL-11 protects against renal IR injury and determined the mechanisms involved in renal protection. Pretreatment with human recombinant IL-11 (HR IL-11) or with long-acting site-specific polyethylene glycol (PEG)-conjugated human IL-11 analog (PEGylated IL-11) produced partial but significant protection against renal IR injury in mice. In addition, HR IL-11 or PEGylated IL-11 given 30-60 min after IR also provided renal protection in mice. Significant reductions in renal tubular necrosis and neutrophil infiltration as well as tubular apoptosis were observed in mice treated with HR IL-11 or PEGylated IL-11. Furthermore, HR IL-11 or PEGylated IL-11 decreased both necrosis and apoptosis in human proximal tubule (HK-2) cells in culture. Mechanistically, IL-11 increased nuclear translocation of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and induced sphingosine kinase-1 (SK1) expression and activity in HK-2 cells. Moreover, selective HIF-1α inhibitors blocked IL-11-mediated induction of SK1 in HK-2 cells. Finally, HR IL-11 or PEGylated IL-11 failed to protect against renal IR injury in SK1-deficient mice. Together, our data show powerful renal protective effects of exogenous IL-11 against IR injury by reducing necrosis, inflammation, and apoptosis through induction of SK1 via HIF-1α.