Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) is a potent pleiotropic cytokine involved in diverse biological activities, thereby requiring precise spatial and temporal control of its expression. The present study reveals that enhanced expression of LIF in response to PMA (phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate) in human histiocytic lymphoma cell line U937 largely happens through stabilization of its mRNA. Functional characterization of the long 30-untranslated region of human lif mRNA revealed several conserved sequences with conventional cis-acting elements. A 216 nucleotide containing proximal cis-element with two AUUUA pentamers and four poly-rC sequences demonstrated significant mRNA destabilizing potential, which, on treatment with PMA, showed stabilizing activity. Affinity chromatography followed by western blot and RNA co-immunoprecipitation of PMA-treated U937 extract identified Nucleolin and PCBP1 as two protein trans-factors interacting with lif mRNA, specifically to the proximal non-conventional AU-rich region. PMA induced nucleo-cytoplasmic translocation of both Nucleolin and PCBP1. RNA-dependent in vivo co-association of both these proteins with lif mRNA was demonstrated by decreased coprecipitation in the presence of RNase. Ectopic overexpression of Nucleolin showed stabilization of both intrinsic lif mRNA and gfp reporter, whereas knockdown of Nucleolin and PCBP1 demonstrated a significant decrease in both lif mRNA and protein levels. Collectively, this report establishes the stabilization of lif mRNA by PMA, mediated by the interactions of two RNA-binding proteins, Nucleolin and PCBP1 with a proximal cis-element. © 2017 The Author(s); published by Portland Press Limited on behalf of the Biochemical Society.