Background: Circulating concentrations of leptin normalized to total adipose tissue mass are significantly greater in females than in males. Rates of leptin expression (per gram of adipose tissue) are significantly greater in subcutaneous (SAT) than visceral (VAT) adipose tissue and the relative amount of fat stored as SAT vs VAT is significantly greater in pre-menopausal females than in males. Gender-related differences in the relative amounts of SAT and VAT may account for the greater circulating leptin concentration relative to fat-mass in females than males.
Methods: We examined body composition and anatomic fat distribution by dual energy X-ray-absorptiometry (DEXA) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and post-absorptive circulating concentrations of leptin and insulin in 58 subjects (26 females, 32 males). Stepwise multiple linear regression analyses, treating gender as a dichotomous variable, were performed to determine inter-relationships among leptin concentrations and insulin concentrations, VAT and SAT.
Results: Body composition by DEXA and MRI were highly correlated (r(2)=0.97, P<0.0001). There were significant gender effects on leptin/total fat mass (males, 0.17+/-0.01 ng/ml/kg; females, 0.49+/-0.05 ng/ml/kg; P<0.0001) and relative amounts of fat in SAT and VAT depots (ratio of SAT/VAT; males, 12.3+/-1.5; females, 32.9+/-3.2; P<0.0001). Circulating leptin concentration was significantly correlated with insulin concentration (P=0.001), SAT (P<0.0001) and gender (P=0.033). Circulating concentrations of insulin were significantly correlated with VAT, but not SAT, in males and with SAT, but not VAT, in females.
Conclusions: The sexual dimorphism in the relationship between leptin and adipose tissue mass cannot be explained by differences in the relative amounts of VAT and SAT. Thus, the sexual dimorphism in plasma leptin concentration appears to reflect, at least in part, effects of circulating concentrations of gonadal steroids (especially androgens) and/or primary genetic differences that are independent of amounts of VAT or SAT.