Background: Recent evidence has suggested that leptin concentration is associated with gonadal hormone levels, and that changes in leptin concentration may trigger the onset of reproductive function in children. However, the concurrent changes in body composition during puberty make the independent associations between leptin and gonadal hormone concentrations in children difficult to resolve.
Methods: To investigate the nature of associations between leptin levels and pubertal maturation, serum concentrations of leptin, estradiol, and testosterone and body composition measures were examined in a sample of 152 healthy pre-pubertal, pubertal, and post-pubertal children.
Results: Leptin concentration was nearly three-fold higher in post-pubertal girls than in pre-pubertal girls, but was relatively similar in pre- and post-pubertal boys. Significant sex differences in leptin concentration existed in prepubertal, pubertal and post-pubertal children, and these remained significant after controlling for adiposity. After adjusting for total body fat, fat-free mass and age, testosterone concentration was negatively associated with leptin levels in pubertal boys, while estradiol concentration was positively associated with leptin level in pubertal girls.
Conclusions: Girls have higher serum leptin concentration before, during, and after puberty than boys, even after accounting for the development of greater female adiposity. Although other factors may be involved, sexual dimorphism in leptin concentrations during puberty appears to be partly due to a stimulatory effect of estradiol on leptin concentration in females and a suppressive effect of testosterone on leptin concentration in males.