We have examined the dose-dependent effects and central action of intraventricular administration of a recombinant adeno-associated virus encoding rat leptin (rAAV-leptin) in suppressing body weight (BW) gain in adult female rats. A low dose of rAAV-leptin (5x10(10) particles) suppressed weight gain (15%) without changing daily food intake (FI), but a twofold higher dose decreased BW by 30% along with a reduction in daily FI. Reduced BW was due to a loss in body adiposity because serum leptin was reduced. Serum insulin levels were decreased (96%) by only the high dose along with a slight reduction in glucose. Uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1) mRNA expression in brown adipose tissue (BAT), reflecting energy expenditure through thermogenesis, was upregulated to the same magnitude by the two rAAV-leptin doses. We analyzed by in situ hybridization the expression in the hypothalamus of genes encoding the appetite-regulating neuropeptides. Only the high dose decreased expression of neuropeptide Y (NPY), the orexigenic peptide, and increased proopiomelanocortin (POMC), precursor of the an orexigenic peptide, alpha-MSH. Our studies show for the first time that increased availability of leptin within the hypothalamus through central leptin gene therapy dose-dependently decreases weight gain, adiposity, and serum insulin by increasing energy expenditure and decreasing FI. The decrease in FI occurs only when NPY is reduced and alpha-MSH is increased in the hypothalamus by the high dose of rAAV-leptin. Delivery of the leptin gene centrally through rAAV vectors is a viable therapeutic modality for long-term control of weight and metabolic hormones.