The interleukin-6 (IL-6) signal is transduced through membrane-anchored gp130, which is associated with IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) in the presence of IL-6. Soluble forms of gp130 (sgp130) with molecular weights of 90 and 110 Kd were found in human serum. In the presence of recombinant IL- 6 (rIL-6), serum sgp130 were capable of associating with serum sIL-6R. By the sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, healthy human sera was shown to contain 390 +/- 72 ng/mL of sgp130. A mouse pro-B-cell line-derived transfectant, BAF-130, expressing human gp130 was used to examine the function of serum sgp130. When supplemented with rIL-6, human serum induced DNA synthesis in BAF-130 cells, whereas the serum deprived of sIL-6R did not. In contrast, the DNA synthesis induced in BAF-130 cells by rIL-6-supplemented serum was increased when the serum was deprived of sgp130. These results indicated that serum sgp130 could negatively regulate the IL-6 signal. Recently, gp130 has been shown to be involved in the signaling processes of oncostatin M, leukemia inhibitory factor, and ciliary neurotropic factor, in addition to those of IL-6. Recombinant sgp130 showed inhibitory effect on the biologic function of such cytokines. This work implies physiologic roles of naturally produced serum sgp130 in modulating signals through gp130.