Earlier studies revealed that human interleukin 6 (IL-6) contains recognition sites for the hepatitis B virus (HBV) envelope (env) protein, and that IL-6 and anti-IL-6 antibodies, respectively, inhibited the interaction of cells expressing a receptor for HBV with the preS(21-47) segment of the HBV env protein, encompassing the complementary attachment site for IL-6. This suggested that IL-6 mediates HBV-cell interactions. We report that: (a) Chinese hamster ovary cells transfected with human IL-6 cDNA and Spodoptera frugiperda ovarian insect cells infected with recombinant baculovirus carrying human IL-6 cDNA expressed receptors for the preS(21-47) region of the HBV env protein, indicating that expression of IL-6 on the surface of cells is sufficient to endow them with receptors for HBV. (b) Among peptides covering the entire sequence of human IL-6 and the corresponding antipeptide antibodies, the peptide IL-6[35-66] and anti-IL-6[35-66] most effectively inhibited the interaction between human hepatoma HepG2 cells and the preS(21-47) ligand, suggesting that this region of the human IL-6 sequence encompasses a binding site for the HBV env protein. (c) Studies with replacement set peptides from the preS(21-47) sequence indicated that residues 21-25, 28, 31, 33-35, 39, and 43-45 can be replaced by alanine (serine) residues, while all the other residues are essential for maintaining the cell receptor/IL-6 binding activity. Further delineation of complementary sites on IL-6 and on the HBV env protein may contribute to the design of compounds inhibiting HBV replication.