IL-6 levels and polymorphisms have been implicated in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) and insulin resistance. The IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) comprises two subunits, IL-6R and gp130, of which IL-6R confers specificity to IL-6 action and is located in a region of replicated linkage to T2DM on chromosome 1q21. We screened this gene for variation in Northern European Caucasian and African-American ethnic groups. We identified 11 variants with a minor allele frequency over 5%, including two amino acid changes (D358A and V385I) and four variants in the 3' untranslated region. No variant was associated with obesity or measures of insulin sensitivity, but two single nucleotide polymorphisms in the 3' untranslated region showed a trend to an association with T2DM in all Caucasians, and three single nucleotide polymorphisms, including D358A, showed a trend (P < 0.06) to an association with T2DM among the subset of Northern European Caucasians. Variant V385I was unique to African-Americans and was significantly associated with diabetes and diabetic nephropathy (P < 0.05). Among individuals heterozygous for the four variants in the transcribed sequence, one allele was significantly overrepresented, thus suggesting the existence of a regulatory variant controlling mRNA stability or expression. IL-6R is not likely to explain the linkage to diabetes in this region, but our work supports a minor role of variants in T2DM risk and suggests that sequence variants may alter IL-6R mRNA levels and possibly levels of soluble IL-6R.