CLF associates with CLC to form a functional heteromeric ligand for the CNTF receptor complex.
Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) is a cytokine supporting the differentiation and survival of various cell types in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Its receptor complex consists of a non-signaling alpha chain, CNTFR, and two signaling beta chains, gp130 and the leukemia inhibitory factor receptor (LIFR). Striking phenotypic differences between CNTF- and CNTFR-deficient mice suggest that CNTFR serves as a receptor for a second, developmentally important ligand. We have identified this factor as a stable secreted complex of cardiotrophin-like cytokine (CLC) and the soluble receptor cytokine-like factor-1 (CLF). CLF expression was required for CLC secretion, and the complex acted only on cells expressing functional CNTF receptors. The CLF/CLC complex activated gp130, LIFR and signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) and supported motor neuron survival. Our results indicate that the CLF/CLC complex is a second ligand for CNTFR with potentially important implications in nervous system development.