The autonomic nervous system modulates glucose and fat metabolism through both direct neural effects and hormonal effects. This review presents recent concepts on the sympathetic regulation of glucose and fat metabolism. Focally released norepinephrine from sympathetic nerves is likely to increase glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and adipose tissues independent of insulin but norepinephrine does not contribute so much as epinephrine to hepatic glucose production. Epinephrine increases hepatic glucose production and inhibits insulin secretion and the glucose uptake by tissues that is induced by insulin. Additionally, catecholamines can increase thermogenesis and lipolysis, leading to increased energy expenditure and decreased fat stores. It is likely that beta-(beta3)-adrenergic receptors mediate these responses. Alterations of central neurotransmission and environmental factors can change the relative contribution of sympathetic outflow to the pancreas, liver, adrenal medulla and adipose tissues, leading to the modulation of glucose and fat metabolism. Recent studies have proposed that leptin, an adipocyte hormone, affects the central nervous system to increase sympathetic outflow independent of feeding. The effects of leptin on glucose and fat metabolism could be in part mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. Studies using mice with a genetic disruption of serotonin 5-HT2c receptor indicate that central neural mechanisms in the regulation of sympathetic outflow and satiety could be dissociated. Abnormalities of sympathetic effects, including disturbances of leptin and beta3-adrenergic receptor signalling, are likely to cause obesity and impaired glucose tolerance in rodents and humans. These findings indicate that dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system could predispose to obesity and Type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus.