Animals with mutations in the leptin receptor (ObR) exhibit an obese phenotype that is indistinguishable from that of leptin deficient ob/ob mice. ObR is expressed in many tissues, including brain, and the relative importance of leptin's effects on central versus peripheral sites has not been resolved. To address this, we generated mice with neuron-specific (ObR(SynI)KO) and hepatocyte-specific (ObR(Alb)KO) disruption of ObR. Among the ObR(SynI)KO mice, the extent of obesity was negatively correlated with the level of ObR in hypothalamus and those animals with the lowest levels of ObR exhibited an obese phenotype. The obese mice with low levels of hypothalamic ObR also show elevated plasma levels of leptin, glucose, insulin, and corticosterone. The hypothalamic levels of agouti-related protein and neuropeptide Y RNA are increased in these mice. These data indicate that leptin has direct effects on neurons and that a significant proportion, or perhaps the majority, of its weight-reducing effects are the result of its actions on brain. To explore possible direct effects of leptin on a peripheral tissue, we also characterized ObR(Alb)KO mice. These mice weigh the same as controls and have no alterations in body composition. Moreover, while db/db mice and ObR(SynI)KO mice have enlarged fatty livers, ObR(Alb)KO mice do not. In summary, these data suggest that the brain is a direct target for the weight-reducing and neuroendocrine effects of leptin and that the liver abnormalities of db/db mice are secondary to defective leptin signaling in the brain.