Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a major growth factor for tumor plasma cells involved in human multiple myeloma (MM). In particular, human myeloma cell lines (HMCL), whose growth is completely dependent on addition of exogenous IL-6, can be obtained reproducibly from every patient with terminal disease. Four cytokines, ciliary neurotropic factor (CNTF), IL-11, leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), and oncostatin M (OM), use the same transducer chain (signal transducer gp130) as IL-6 and share numerous biological activities with this IL. We found that these four cytokines stimulated proliferation and supported the long-term growth of two out of four IL-6-dependent HMCL obtained in our laboratory. Half-maximal proliferation was obtained with cytokine concentrations ranging from 0.4 to 1.2 ng/ml for IL-11, LIF, and OM. CNTF worked at high concentrations only (90 ng/ml), but addition of soluble CNTF receptor increased sensitivity to CNTF 30-fold. The growth-promoting effect of these four cytokines was abrogated by anti-gp130 antibodies, contrary to results for anti-IL-6 receptor or anti-IL-6 antibodies. No detectable changes in the morphology and phenotype were found when myeloma cells were cultured with one of these four cytokines instead of IL-6. Concordant with their IL-6-dependent growth, the four HMCL expressed membrane IL-6R and gp130 detected by FACS analysis. LIF-binding chain gene (LIFR) was expressed only in the two HMCL responsive to LIF and OM.