Here, we report the analysis of the structure-function relationship of the extracellular region of human interleukin 6 receptor (IL-6R). Upon binding of IL-6, IL-6R becomes associated extracellularly with a non-IL-6-binding but signal transducing molecule, gp130, and the IL-6 signal is generated. In this region, the cytokine receptor family domain, but not the immunoglobulin-like domain, was responsible both for IL-6 binding and for signal transduction through gp130. Because a soluble, extracellular portion of IL-6R (sIL-6R) could bind IL-6 and mediate IL-6 functions through gp130, amino acid substitutions were introduced into sIL-6R by site-directed mutagenesis. The results, together with the previously proposed tertiary structure model, suggested that the amino acid residues critical for IL-6 binding have a tendency to be distributed to the hinge region between the two 'barrel'-like fibronectin type III modules and to the same side of these two 'barrels'. Amino acid residues, of which substitutions barely affected the IL-6-binding but did abolish the IL-6 signalling capability of sIL-6R, were identified and found to be located mainly in the membrane proximal half of the second barrel. sIL-6R mutants carrying such substitutions lacked the capacity to associate with gp130 in the presence of IL-6.