In recent reports, ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) has been implicated as an injury factor involved in regulating astrogliosis in the CNS. In this study, we used a rat oligodendroglial progenitor cell line that is highly responsive to CNTF to examine CNTF-induced alterations that may play a role in activation of the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) gene. We determined that CNTF induces the transient translocation of Stat1 alpha/p91 to the nucleus. This nuclear translocation was followed by GFAP promoter activation and an up-regulation of GFAP mRNA and protein. Level of CNTF-alpha receptor mRNA, however, were unaffected by addition of the ligand. Transfection studies using an upstream 5'-flanking, 1.9-kb rat GFAP promoter linked to a luciferase reporter gene revealed CNTF-induced transcriptional activation within 1 h of ligand exposure. Moreover, serial-deleted constructs identified a distal (-1,857 to -1,546 bp) and a proximal (-384 to -106 bp) region as being important for CNTF-induced GFAP promoter activation. These two regions showed a strong degree of overlap for CNTF- and serum-induced activation of the GFAP gene. Analysis of the two regions revealed several cis-elements that are thought to be involved in GFAP regulation and/or the regulation of other genes by members of the interleukin-6 family of cytokines. Moreover, we are the first to report the presence of several putative CNTF-responsive elements within our identified distal and proximal regions in the GFAP gene promoter.