Leptin inhibits food intake and increases metabolic rates in adult mice. Neonatal mice need to maximize food intake and also maintain high thermoregulatory metabolic rates to optimize survival, suggesting that leptin may function differentially in neonatal versus adult animals. The efficacy of exogenous leptin to alter these two physiological functions during development was thus examined in C57BL/6J lean (+/+ or ob/+) and ob/ob (leptin-deficient) mice. Intraperitoneal leptin administration (1 mg/kg body wt) to lean and ob/ob pups from 7 to 10 days of age did not affect milk intake, oxygen consumption, body weight, or epididymal fat pad weights. Intracerebroventricular injection of 1 microg leptin to 9-day-old pups also failed to influence milk intake or oxygen consumption. Because neither lean nor ob/ob pups responded to exogenous leptin, high endogenous plasma leptin concentrations per se in these lean mice do not explain their resistance to leptin. Leptin administered intracerebroventricularly also failed to alter milk/food intakes of 17-day-old pups but markedly increased oxygen consumption of these older mice. By 28 days of age, intracerebroventricular leptin inhibited food intake. The well-defined actions of leptin to reduce food intake and enhance metabolic rates do not develop synchronously. The ability of leptin to accelerate metabolic rates is acquired early in life and independent of its anorectic action, which may promote survival of neonates.