We postulated that high fat diet enhances colon cell proliferation and carcinogenesis by elevating serum leptin. To examine this possibility, the present study was conducted to investigate the effect of leptin on the growth of human colon cancer cells (HT29) and the relationship between serum leptin and colon cell proliferation and aberrant crypt foci (ACF) in the 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-treated rats fed graded levels of dietary fat for 28 days. In cell culture experiments, leptin stimulated the growth and proliferation (BrdU incorporation) of colon cancer cells and the expression of c-fos protein. In the in vivo experiments, an elevation of dietary fat caused higher serum leptin and adipose-tissue weight. Colonic cell proliferation (BrdU incorporation), c-fos protein expression and ACF were elevated with increasing dietary fat. There was a significant correlation between serum concentration of leptin and colon cell proliferation and ACF. The results suggest that the enhancement of colon cell proliferation and carcinogenesis by high fat diet is mediated through elevating serum leptin.