Methods We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies reporting circulating IL-6 in AAA, and new investigations of the association between a common non-synonymous functional variant (Asp358Ala) in the IL-6R gene (IL6R) and AAA, followed the analysis of the variant both in vitro and in vivo. Inflammation may play a role in the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA). Interleukin-6 (IL-6) signalling through its receptor (IL-6R) is one pathway that could be exploited pharmacologically. We investigated this using a Mendelian randomization approach. Results Up to October 2011, we identified seven studies (869 cases, 851 controls). Meta-analysis demonstrated that AAA cases had higher levels of IL-6 than controls [standardized mean difference (SMD) = 0.46 SD, 95% CI = 0.25–0.66, I2 = 70%, P = 1.1 × 10–5 random effects]. Meta-analysis of five studies (4524 cases/15 710 controls) demonstrated that rs7529229 (which tags the non-synonymous variant Asp358Ala, rs2228145) was associated with a lower risk of AAA, per Ala358 allele odds ratio 0.84, 95% CI: 0.80–0.89, I2 = 0%, P = 2.7 × 10–11). In vitro analyses in lymphoblastoid cell lines demonstrated a reduction in the expression of downstream targets (STAT3, MYC and ICAM1) in response to IL-6 stimulation in Ala358 carriers. Conclusions A Mendelian randomization approach provides robust evidence that signalling via the IL-6R is likely to be a causal pathway in AAA. Drugs that inhibit IL-6R may play a role in AAA management.