BACKGROUND: Arterial calcification and osteoporosis often coexist, especially in postmenopausal women. Osteoporosis associates with a substantially increased risk of stroke in elderly women, suggesting that impaired estrogen signaling may link stroke and osteoporosis. Osteoprotegerin (OPG, TNFRSF11B) and interleukin-6 (IL-6, IL6) are putative target genes for estrogen signaling and have been implicated in both cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis. We hypothesized that specific polymorphisms in these genes may be associated with increased risk of ischemic stroke or intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH). METHODS: We performed a population-based prospective nested case-control study, in which the relationships between polymorphisms (OPG-1181G/C, OPG-950T/C and IL6-174G/C) and ischemic stroke and ICH were examined. Definitive first-ever stroke events (n = 388), i.e. ischemic stroke (n = 320), ICH (n = 61) and unspecified stroke (n = 7) cases, and controls without cardiovascular disease (n = 773), matched for age, sex and geographical region were studied. Univariate and multivariate models using conditional logistic regression, which included traditional risk factors, were used to test for association. RESULTS: Carriers of the OPG-1181C/C genotype had a significantly (p = 0.018) increased risk of ICH (OR, 2.69; 95% CI, 1.19-6.12) in the univariate analysis. After adjustments (hypertension, diabetes, BMI and triglycerides), this genotype remained significantly (p = 0.005) associated with ICH (OR, 6.04; 95% CI, 1.71-21.29). By contrast, no correlations were found between this genotype and ischemic stroke, nor between the OPG-950T/C or IL6-174G/C polymorphisms and stroke subtypes. CONCLUSIONS: In this population, the OPG-1181C/C genotype associates with first-ever ICH, implying that alterations in OPG-mediated signaling in the vasculature may be involved in the pathophysiology of this disease.