Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) and its receptor (LIFR) are "twins" of Oncostatin M (OSM) and OSMR, respectively, likely having arisen through gene duplications. We compared their effects in a bone nodule-forming model of in vitro osteogenesis, rat calvaria (RC) cell cultures. Using a dominant-negative LIF mutant (hLIF-05), we showed that in RC cell cultures mouse OSM (mOSM) activates exclusively glycoprotein 130 (gp130)/OSMR. In treatments starting at early nodule formation stage, LIF, mOSM, IL-11, and IL-6 + sIL-6R inhibit bone nodule formation, that is, osteoprogenitor differentiation. Treatment with mOSM, and no other cytokine of the family, in early cultures (day 1-3 or 1-4) increases bone colony numbers. hLIF-05 also dose dependently stimulates bone nodule formation, confirming the inhibitory action of gp130/LIFR on osteogenesis. In pulse treatments at successive stages of bone nodule formation and maturation, LIF blocks osteocalcin (OCN) expression by differentiated osteoblasts, but has no effect on bonesialoprotein (BSP) expression. Mouse OSM inhibits OCN and BSP expression in preconfluent cultures with no or progressively reduced effects at later stages, reflecting the disruption of early nodules, possibly due to the strong apoptotic action of mOSM in RC cell cultures. In summary, LIFR and OSMR display differential effects on differentiation and phenotypic expression of osteogenic cells, most likely through different signal transduction pathways. In particular, gp130/OSMR is the only receptor complex of the family to stimulate osteoprogenitor differentiation in the RC cell culture model. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.