Recently, a variant of insulin-like growth factor-1, mechano-growth factor (MGF), has been discovered whose 24-amino-acid carboxy end is protective in models of stroke, nerve injury, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, suggesting broad-spectrum neuroprotective properties. Moreover, we recently demonstrated in vitro and in vivo that a modified protease-resistant 24-amino-acid MGF derivative (MGF24) protects dopaminergic neurons from oxidative stress-induced apoptosis via induction of the stress response protein heme oxygenase-1. However, the underlying mechanism by which MGF24 up-regulates heme oxygenase-1 expression is unknown. In this study, we demonstrate that MGF24-induced heme oxygenase-1 up-regulation is dependent on activation of protein kinase Cϵ and NF-E2-related factor-2 (Nrf2). MGF24 induces nuclear translocation of Nrf2, and siRNA knockdown of Nrf2 or of heme oxygenase-1 prevents MGF24-induced heme oxygenase-1 up-regulation and neuroprotection of SH-SY5Y cells against 6-hydroxydopamine-induced cell death. Pharmacological inhibition of ERK, p38 MAPK, PI3K/Akt, or PKC signaling revealed that only PKC inhibition by GF109203X prevents MGF24's ability to protect against 6-hydroxydopamine-induced cell death. GF109203X also prevented MGF24-induced Nrf2 nuclear translocation and heme oxygenase-1 up-regulation. siRNA knockdown of protein kinase Cϵ blocks MGF24-induced Nfr2 nuclear translocation, heme oxygenase-1 expression, and neuroprotection. Taken together, these results demonstrate that PKC activity is needed for MGF24's activation of Nrf2, which in turn increases heme oxygenase-1 expression, a critical event in mediating MGF24's neuroprotection against 6-hydroxydopamine-induced apoptosis. Published 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.