Targeted gene studies have demonstrated the importance of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) for osteoblast (OB) differentiation and the acquisition of peak bone mineral density (BMD). The skeletal response to allelic differences in IGF-I expression can also be measured in vivo, using congenic mice. We created a congenic strain with reduced (approximately 20%) circulating IGF-I (C3H.B6-6T [6T]) by backcrossing a small genomic region (30 cM) of Chromosome 6 (Chr6) from C3H/HeJ (C3H) onto a C57Bl/6J (B6) background. 6T female mice have lower serum IGF-I (P<0.001 vs. B6) but similar growth hormone (GH) and serum IGF binding protein (IGFBP) concentrations as B6. At 16 weeks of age, congenics have greater body fat (P<0.02 vs. B6) despite less total body weight, and exhibit smaller femoral cross-sectional size (P=0.001), reduced cortical thickness (P<0.001) and lower trabecular BV/TV (P<0.05) than B6. 6T mice also have suppressed serum leptin (P<0.01), but compared to B6 have similar markers of bone resorption (i.e., urine CTx and serum TRAP 5B). At 8 weeks of age, skeletal IGF-I mRNA from long bones was reduced by 40% (P<0.05) as were liver mRNA transcripts (i.e., 50%, P<0.01). Osteoblast progenitors from the bone marrow of 6T mice formed less colony forming unit fibroblasts by crystal violet staining than B6 (P<0.007) and had significantly reduced alkaline phosphatase-positive colonies than B6(P<0.0001). In addition, staining of bone marrow with oil red O revealed greater numbers of adipocytes in 6T than B6. Several candidate genes in the Chr6 QTL were excluded by lack of strain-related expression differences in bone, but genes positively regulating adipocyte differentiation including Alox 5 and PPAR-gamma require further study as either "pathway" or candidate genes. In summary, allelic differences in a QTL on Chr6 result in altered IGF-I gene expression, changes in OB lineage allocation, and reduced peak bone mass. Congenic mice are useful models not only for mapping genes related to bone mass but also for elucidating the biology underlying various skeletal phenotypes associated with more subtle manipulation of the mouse genome.