Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a multifunctional cytokine which is involved in a broad spectrum of activities such as immune defense, hematopoiesis, and the acute phase response, as well as in the pathogenesis of multiple myeloma. A series of murine IL-6 (mIL-6) mutants, H31A, W34A, and H31A/W34A, were constructed to investigate the roles of His31 and Trp34 in the structure, conformational stability, time-dependent aggregation, folding, and spectral properties of mIL-6. The characteristic pH-dependent quenching of fluorescence of mIL-6 at low pH was shown to be caused by an interaction between Trp34 and protonated His31 at low pH and not associated with Trp157. Denaturant-induced equilibrium unfolding experiments monitored by fluorescence and far-UV CD showed that the increased quantum yield and blue shift of the wavelength of the emission maximum observed for mIL-6 at moderate denaturant concentrations were also associated with Trp34, rather than Trp157. The tendency to form aggregation-prone unfolding intermediates, as judged by poor fits to a two-state unfolding mechanism, low m values (slopes of the unfolding curve in the transition region), and the range of denaturant concentrations over which these intermediates formed, was shown to be higher for H31A than mIL-6 but significantly lower for W34A and H31A/W34A. These differences were most pronounced at pH 7.4 and correlated with the tendencies of the proteins to aggregate at high protein concentrations in the absence of denaturant. As judged by the 1H NMR chemical shifts of the aromatic residues, the global conformations of H31A and W34A were not significantly different from that of mIL-6. Nuclear Overhauser effects (NOE) between the side chains of His31 and Trp34 were consistent with the indole side chain of Trp34 being oriented toward the face of the imidazolium side chain of His31, an arrangement consistent with our estimates of a low interaction energy (0.4-0.6 kcal/mol) between these side chains. A shift in the pK(a) of the His31 side chain in W34A (+0.3 unit) suggested that, in the absence of Trp34, His31 could interact with other residues. Further mutations in this region should yield forms of mIL-6, even less prone to aggregation, which would be more suitable for NMR studies. Mutation of His31 and Trp34 to alanine did not significantly alter the mitogenic activity of the mutants on mouse hybridoma 7TD1 cells, even though the corresponding region of human IL- 6 has been shown to be important for biological activity.