As pituitary leukemia-inhibitory factor (LIF) mediates neuroimmune signals to the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, we tested the role of intracellular SOCS-3 in corticotroph function. SOCS-3, a cytokine-inducible protein of the suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS) family, is expressed in the murine pituitary in vivo. After i.p. injection of LIF (5.0 micrograms/mouse) or interleukin-1 beta (0.1 microgram/mouse) pituitary SOCS-3 mRNA was stimulated 9-fold and 6-fold, respectively. Also, in corticotroph AtT-20 cells LIF and interleukin-1 beta both potently stimulated SOCS-3 mRNA expression. In AtT-20 cells, stable overexpression of SOCS-3 inhibits basal and LIF-stimulated ACTH secretion in comparison to mock-transfected AtT-20 cells (basal: 4426 +/- 118 vs. 4973 +/- 138 pg/ml, P < 0.05; LIF-induced: 5511 +/- 172 vs. 9308 +/- 465 pg/ml, P < 0.001). Stable overexpression of SOCS-3 cDNA in AtT-20 cells also resulted in a significant 50% decrease of LIF-induced POMC mRNA levels (P < 0.05) and POMC promoter activity (P < 0.001), respectively. Western blot analysis revealed an inhibition of LIF-stimulated gp130 and STAT-3 phosphorylation in SOCS-3 overexpressing AtT-20 cells. Thus, SOCS-3 inhibits the Janus kinase (JAK) and signal transducers and activators of transcription (STAT) pathway, which is known to mediate LIF-stimulated ACTH secretion and POMC gene expression. In conclusion, SOCS-3 functions as an intracellular regulator of POMC gene expression and ACTH secretion, acting as a negative feedback mediator of the cytokine-mediated neuro-immuno-endocrine interface.