Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is thought to be involved in the pathogenesis of autoimmune insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. To examine this possibility, we developed two lines of transgenic mice (termed RIP-IL6) which overexpressed IL-6 in the pancreatic islet beta cells. RIP-IL6 mice, while showing a modest reduction in body weight, remained normoglycemic throughout their lives. Furthermore, insulin gene expression and glucose tolerance were similar to non-transgenic littermates. Histopathological examination revealed significant changes in the pancreas but not other organs of RIP-IL6 animals, with marked alterations in the architecture of the islets, in the islet cells, and in surrounding tissues. In younger animals these changes included islet hyperplasia with increased mitotic figures, neo-ductular formation, fibrosis, and a scant mononuclear cell infiltration (insulitis). In addition, immunostaining for islet hormones revealed changes in both the topography and density of beta and alpha cells. In older RIP-IL6 mice, a more florid insulitis was observed which was composed predominantly of B220+ B lymphocytes and, to a lesser extent, Mac-1+ macrophages and CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes. Immunostaining for mouse IgG revealed significant numbers of plasma cells in the peri-islet infiltrates, which suggested that IL-6 induced differentiation of the recruited B lymphocytes. Therefore, islet overexpression of IL-6 produces a complex, localized host response implicating this cytokine in not only inflammatory processes that occur in autoimmune diabetes but also cellular neogenesis, which may indicate a role in tissue repair.