The interleukin 6 (IL-6) cytokine family, which includes IL-6, leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), oncostatin M (OSM), ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), IL-11 and cardiotrophin-1 (CT-1), exhibits pleiotropy and redundancy in biological activities. The IL-6 family cytokines exhibit a helical structure. Their receptors belong to the type 1 cytokine receptor family. The receptors of the IL-6 family cytokines share a receptor subunit, which explains one of the mechanisms of functional redundancy. In this review, we describe the general features of the IL-6 cytokine family and its signal transduction mechanisms. Many functional properties of the IL-6 family of cytokines and their receptors are general features of the cytokine system.