The leukemia inhibitory factor/interleukin 6 (LIF/IL6) family of cytokines promotes cell type-specific pleiotropic effects by engaging multimeric receptor complexes that share the common affinity converter/signal transducing subunit gp130. While the maintenance of embryonic stem (ES) cell self-renewal is an activity unique to this family of cytokines, the intracellular signaling events mediated by gp130 remain largely unknown. Here we show a rapid and transient increase in the specific activity of the Src- related kinase Hck as well as of the Janus kinases Jak1, Jak2, and Tyk2 following treatment of ES cells with LIF or a combination of IL6 plus a soluble form of the IL6 receptor. Within 2 min of stimulation, we also observed increased tyrosine phosphorylation of SHC, activation of the guanidine nucleotide exchange activity on p21(ras), and an electrophoretic mobility shift of MAP kinase. Functional involvement of Hck and p21(ras) activation in gp130-mediated signaling is supported by the finding that the introduction of constitutively activated Hck or v-Ha-ras partially alleviates the requirement of ES cells for LIF to remain undifferentiated. In contrast, suppression of Jak1 in ES cells by antisense technology increased the amount of LIF required to retain their pluripotentiality. These results are consistent with the notion that gp130-mediated suppression of ES cell differentiation depends on signaling through at least two cascades, namely a p21(ras)-dependent pathway that possibly involves Hck, as well as a Jak kinase-dependent pathway.