The discovery of the adipose-derived hormone leptin has generated enormous interest in the interaction between peripheral signals and brain targets involved in the regulation of feeding and energy balance. Plasma leptin levels correlate with fat stores and respond to changes in energy balance. It was initially proposed that leptin serves a primary role as an anti-obesity hormone, but this role is commonly thwarted by leptin resistance. Leptin also serves as a mediator of the adaptation to fasting, and this role may be the primary function for which the molecule evolved. There is increasing evidence that leptin has systemic effects apart from those related to energy homeostasis, including regulation of neuroendocrine and immune function and a role in development.