Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional cytokine that plays a central role in host defense due to its wide range of immune and hematopoietic activities and its potent ability to induce the acute phase response. Overexpression of IL-6 has been implicated in the pathology of a number of diseases including multiple myeloma, rheumatoid arthritis, Castleman's disease, psoriasis, and post-menopausal osteoporosis. Hence, selective antagonists of IL-6 action may offer therapeutic benefits. IL-6 is a member of the family of cytokines that includes interleukin-11, leukemia inhibitory factor, oncostatin M, cardiotrophin-1, and ciliary neurotrophic factor. Like the other members of this family, IL-6 induces growth or differentiation via a receptor-system that involves a specific receptor and the use of a shared signaling subunit, gp130. Identification of the regions of IL-6 that are involved in the interactions with the IL-6 receptor, and gp130 is an important first step in the rational manipulation of the effects of this cytokine for therapeutic benefit. In this review, we focus on the sites on IL-6 which interact with its low-affinity specific receptor, the IL-6 receptor, and the high-affinity converter gp130. A tentative model for the IL-6 hexameric receptor ligand complex is presented and discussed with respect to the mechanism of action of the other members of the IL-6 family of cytokines.