There are several transport systems for peptides and polypeptides at the blood-brain barrier (BBB) which facilitate the passage of bioactive substances from blood to brain or from brain to blood. Nonetheless, it would be a novel concept for one peptide or polypeptide to activate the transport of another peptide with a similar function but unrelated structure. In this study, we report the first observation of such a phenomenon: activation of a urocortin transport system at the BBB by leptin. Urocortin, a corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-related neuropeptide, is a more potent suppressor of food intake than leptin or CRF when injected peripherally. Radiolabeled urocortin ((125)I-urocortin) was used for these in vivo studies in mice; it remained stable and intact during the experimental period. Unlike CRF, urocortin was not saturably transported out of the brain. There was no substantial entry of (125)I-urocortin into brain as determined by sensitive multiple-time regression analysis after iv bolus injection. Addition of leptin, however, caused a dose-related increase in the influx of (125)I-urocortin and greatly facilitated its entry into brain parenchyma; this effect disappeared at higher doses of leptin. Moreover, in the presence of an activating dose of leptin, the entry of (125)I-urocortin into brain was saturable. The results indicate that the presence of leptin contributes to the potent satiety effects of urocortin after peripheral administration. Thus, the action of leptin in the periphery extends beyond its direct passage across the BBB and involves acute modulation of an inert transport system. We believe that these findings have broad physiological implications and indicate a unique function of the BBB as a regulatory interface.