Increased visceral adipose tissue results in elevated plasma leptin, which are associated with increased risk of a number of obesity-related cancers. However, research is contradictory regarding the role of elevated plasma leptin in colon cancer risk. Having established that leptin induced proliferation in a murine model of preneoplastic (Apc(Min/+); IMCE) colon epithelial cells but not normal (Apc(+/+); YAMC) cells, we hypothesized that the leptin-associated IMCE cell proliferation was a result of autocrine interleukin-6 (IL-6) production and ensuing IL-6 receptor (IL-6R) signaling. Here we show, for the first time, that leptin induces elevated IL-6 production in IMCE cells but not in YAMC cells. IL-6 treatment induced cell proliferation in IMCE cells, but not in YAMC cells, in a concentration-dependent manner from 0.1 to 100 ng/ml (P < 0.05). Interleukin-6-induced IMCE cell proliferation was blocked by the addition of a neutralizing anti-IL-6R antibody. In addition, leptin-induced IMCE cell proliferation was blocked by the addition of an anti-IL-6R neutralizing antibody. Further, we elucidate a novel mechanism by which leptin activates TACE/ADAM17-associated IL-6R shedding and trans-IL-6 signaling in IMCE by induction of IL-6 production. IL-6 treatment of IMCE cells was associated with STAT3, ERK, p38, MEK and JAK2 activation and associated STAT3 nuclear activation and translocation. These data implicate leptin-induced IL-6 production, signaling and subsequent STAT3 activation as early events promoting the survival/proliferation of colon epithelial preneoplastic cells. The elucidation of the leptin-initiated mechanism of preneoplastic cell proliferation establishes a biologically plausible link between the adipocyte-specific cytokine leptin and obesity-associated colon cancer.