Humanin (HN) inhibits neuronal death induced by various Alzheimer's disease (AD)-related insults via an unknown receptor on cell membranes. Our earlier study indicated that the activation of STAT3 was essential for HN-induced neuroprotection, suggesting that the HN receptor may belong to the cytokine receptor family. In this study, a series of loss-of-function tests indicated that gp130, the common subunit of receptors belonging to the IL-6 receptor family, was essential for HN-induced neuroprotection. Overexpression of ciliary neurotrophic factor receptor α (CNTFR) and/or the IL-27 receptor subunit, WSX-1, but not that of any other tested gp130-related receptor subunit, up-regulated HN binding to neuronal cells, whereas siRNA-mediated knockdown of endogenous CNTFR and/or WSX-1 reduced it. These results suggest that both CNTFR and WSX-1 may be also involved in HN binding to cells. Consistent with these results, loss-of-functions of CNTFR or WSX-1 in neuronal cells nullified their responsiveness to HN-mediated protection. In vitro-reconstituted binding assays showed that HN, but not the other control peptide, induced the hetero-oligomerization of CNTFR, WSX-1, and gp130. Together, these results indicate that HN protects neurons by binding to a complex or complexes involving CNTFR/WSX-1/gp130.
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