Circulating levels of the cytokine interleukin 6 (IL-6) are elevated in obesity, correlate with body mass index (BMI), and predict the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). A promoter polymorphism in the IL6 gene is associated with obesity, altered levels of insulin sensitivity, and T2DM. IL-6 exerts its effects by binding to the IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) and levels of IL-6R have been correlated with BMI. It is possible that IL6R variants may also be related to obesity, but to our knowledge, no study has yet examined this relationship. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between genetic variants in the IL6R gene and obesity in Pima Indians, a population prone to excess adiposity. We sequenced 6kb of the IL6R gene, corresponding to all exons, exon-intron boundaries, and 2kb of promoter in 30 Pima Indians. We identified six single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the IL6R gene: a predicted Asp --> Ala substitution at position 358, a variant in the 3'-untranslated region, and 4 intronic SNPs. All SNPs were in strong linkage disequilibrium (D' >/= 0.90) and varied in minor allele frequency from 0.33 to 0.48. Association between IL6R genotype and BMI (kg/m(2)) was assessed in approximately 700 nondiabetic, full-heritage Pima Indians. For each SNP, individuals carrying the variant allele had a higher mean BMI compared to those with the wild-type allele (range: [37.3+/-7.2-38.2+/-7.0] vs. [35.5+/-7.3-36.0+/-7.5]; P=0.02-0.004). Our findings suggest that genetic variants in the IL6R gene may play a role in susceptibility to obesity. Assessment of these SNPs in other populations will be useful to determine the magnitude of obesity risk.