IL-6 overexpression protects mice from hyperoxic acute lung injury in vivo, and treatment with IL-6 protects cells from oxidant-mediated death in vitro. The mechanisms of protection, however, are not clear. We characterized the expression, localization, and regulation of Bax, a proapoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family, in wild-type (WT) and IL-6 lung-specific transgenic (Tg(+)) mice exposed to 100% O(2) and in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) treated with H(2)O(2) and IL-6. In control HUVEC treated with H(2)O(2) or in WT mice exposed to 100% O(2), a marked induction of Bax translocation and dimerization was associated with increased JNK and p38 kinase activity. In contrast, specific JNK or p38 kinase inhibitors or treatment with IL-6 inhibited Bax mitochondrial translocation and apoptosis of HUVEC. IL-6 Tg(+) mice exposed to 100% O(2) exhibited enhanced phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt kinase and increased serine phosphorylation of Bax at Ser(184) compared with WT mice. The PI3K-specific inhibitor LY-2940002 blocked this IL-6-induced Bax phosphorylation and promoted cell death. Furthermore, IL-6 potently blocked hyperoxia- or oxidant-induced Bax insertion into mitochondrial membranes. Thus IL-6 functions in a cytoprotective manner, in part, by suppressing Bax translocation and dimerization through PI3K/Akt-mediated Bax phosphorylation.