Interleukin 6 (IL6) is a pleiotropic cytokine that not only affects the immune system, but also plays an active role in many physiological events in various organs. Notably, 35% of systemic IL6 originates from adipose tissues under noninflammatory conditions. Here, we describe a previously unknown function of melanocortins in regulating Il6 gene expression and production in 3T3-L1 adipocytes through membrane receptors which are called melanocortin receptors (MCRs). Of the five MCRs that have been cloned, MC2R and MC5R are expressed during adipocyte differentiation. alpha-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH) or ACTH treatment of 3T3-L1 adipocytes induces Il6 gene expression and production in a time- and concentration-dependent manner via various signaling pathways including the protein kinase A, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, cJun N-terminal kinase, and IkappaB kinase pathways. Specific inhibition of MC2R and MC5R expression with short interfering Mc2r and Mc5r RNAs significantly attenuated the alpha-MSH-induced increase of intracellular cAMP and both the level of Il6 mRNA and secretion of IL6 in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Finally, when injected into mouse tail vein, alpha-MSH dramatically increased the Il6 transcript levels in epididymal fat pads. These results suggest that alpha-MSH in addition to ACTH may function as a regulator of inflammation by regulating cytokine production.