Ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) liver injury occurs when blood flow is restored after prolonged ischemia. A short interruption of blood flow (ischemic preconditioning [IP]) induces tolerance to subsequent prolonged ischemia through ill-defined mechanisms. Cardiotrophin (CT)-1, a cytokine of the interleukin-6 family, exerts hepatoprotective effects and activates key survival pathways like JAK/STAT3. Here we show that administration of CT-1 to rats or mice protects against I/R liver injury and that CT-1–deficient mice are exceedingly sensitive to this type of damage. IP markedly reduced transaminase levels and abrogated caspase-3 and c-Jun–NH2-terminal kinase activation after I/R in normal mice but not in CT-1–null mice. Moreover, the protective effect afforded by IP was reduced by previous administration of neutralizing anti–CT-1 antibody. Prominent STAT3 phosphorylation in liver tissue was observed after IP plus I/R in normal mice but not in CT-1–null mice. Oxidative stress, a process involved in IP-induced hepatoprotection, was found to stimulate CT-1 release from isolated hepatocytes. Interestingly, brief ischemia followed by short reperfusion caused mild serum transaminase elevation and strong STAT3 activation in normal and IL-6–deficient mice, but failed to activate STAT3 and provoked marked hypertransaminasemia in CT-1–null animals. In conclusion, CT-1 is an essential endogenous defense of the liver against I/R and is a key mediator of the protective effect induced by IP.