Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is used as a growth factor by various tumor cells. It binds to a gp80 specific receptor (IL-6R) and then to a gp130 transducing chain. Both receptor chains are released as soluble functional proteins which circulate in biological fluids. With a view to studying the physiological role of these soluble receptors, both proteins were purified from human plasma. Surface plasmon resonance was used to measure the kinetic constants of equilibria between IL-6 and natural sIL-6R, and between the IL-6/sIL-6R complex and soluble gp130. Kd values were found to be 0. 9 and 2.3 nM respectively. Soluble natural IL-6R and gp130 were also found to interact with a Kd of 2.8 nM in the absence of IL-6. By using these Kd values, a mathematical simulation predicted that 1) within a large range of IL-6, sIL-6R and sgp130 concentrations, free IL-6 represents 30% of the total circulating cytokine, 2) sIL-6R overconcentrations lead to dramatic changes of the concentration of free IL-6, 3) increased concentrations of sgp130 should produce an efficient buffering effect on the IL-6/sIL-6R complex without incidence on the level of free IL-6. According to this model, the IL-6/sIL-6R complex appears to be an important support of IL-6 signaling in the most commonly encountered in vivo situations. The concentration of this complex is directly under the control of the concentration of sIL-6R; its bio-availability should be efficiently buffered by increased sgp130 concentrations.