Transcriptional regulation of the fatty acid synthase (FAS) gene by insulin/glucose, polyunsaturated fatty acids and leptin was investigated in hepatocytes and adipocytes of Wistar fatty rats and their lean littermates. The sequence spanning nucleotides -57 to -35 of FAS gene, which is responsive to insulin/glucose stimulation [Fukuda, H., Iritani, N. & Noguchi, T. (1997) FEBS Lett. 406, 243-248], was linked to a reporter gene containing a heterologous promoter and transfected into rat hepatocytes or adipocytes. The activity of the reporter, chloramphenicol acetyltransferase, in the presence of glucose alone was similar in the primary cultured cells from the lean and obese rats. In the presence of insulin/glucose, however, chloramphenicol acetyltransferase activity was markedly increased in hepatocytes of lean rats, but was not significantly increased in those of obese rats. The stimulation by insulin/glucose was reduced in arachidonic acid-treated cells of lean rats. Similarly, the stimulation by insulin/glucose was reduced in leptin-treated cells and in cells from lean rats containing an expression vector encoding leptin. However, neither polyunsaturated fatty acids nor leptin-treated cells from obese rats responded to insulin-stimulation. The same effects were observed at endogenous FAS mRNA and enzyme levels. Similar results were seen in adipocytes, although the stimulation and suppression were much smaller than in hepatocytes. The insulin-binding capacities of the receptors of liver and adipose tissue were reduced in the presence of leptin or polyunsaturated fatty acids. Leptin and polyunsaturated fatty acids appeared to suppress the insulin stimulation of FAS transcription by reducing the insulin-binding capacities of receptors. Leptin converged on the insulin/glucose response element of FAS gene and suppressed the transcription.