Physiological roles of the leptin endocrine system: differences between mice and humans

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 1999 Dec;36(6):575-655. doi: 10.1080/10408369991239259.


Leptin is a 16-kDa cytokine secreted in humans primarily but not exclusively by adipose tissues. Its concentration in blood is usually proportional to body fat mass, but is higher in women than in men not only because of a different distribution of and greater fat mass in women, but also because testosterone reduces its level in men. Leptin features in different ways during the life span. It is synthesized in the ovary, transported in the oocyte, and made by both fetus and placenta, particularly during the last month of gestation. It is made by the lactating mammary gland and ingested by the newborn infant in its milk. The prime importance of leptin is realized at puberty when it is necessary for progression to a normal adult reproductive status in females. Fasting and chronic undernutrition result in a lower level of leptin in the blood. Lack of leptin results in hunger, ensuring that the individual eat to survive, and also inhibition of reproduction, until such time as food and fat stores are adequate to supply energy for pregnancy and lactation. Thus, leptin is important for survival of the individual and survival of the species. Although an extremely rare genetic absence of leptin induces hyperphagia and obesity in humans, as it does in mice, there appears to be little role for leptin in humans in ensuring that fat stores are not in excess of adequate, that is, in preventing obesity. The mouse differs from humans in many respects, in particular in the far more drastic ways it conserves energy when it very rapidly adapts to lack of food. These include not only suppression of reproduction but also lowering of its body temperature (torpor), suppressing its thyroid function, suppressing its growth, and increasing secretion of stress hormones (from the adrenal). This review concentrates on roles of leptin in human physiology and pathophysiology but also discusses why some observations on actions of leptin in mice are not applicable to humans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Diagnosis
  • Endocrine System / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leptin / physiology*
  • Leptin / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy


  • Leptin