It is well known that maternal smoking during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight and low body fat in human newborns. The purpose of this study was to determine whether chronic maternal nicotine treatment alters levels of known regulators of energy balance in the newborn offspring. Pregnant rhesus monkeys were treated with nicotine tartrate (1.5 mg/kg x d) starting on d 26 of pregnancy and maintained through d 160 of gestation. Nicotine exposure had no significant effect on absolute birth weights of the neonatal monkeys, although there was a 10% reduction in birth weights with nicotine exposure when they were normalized to maternal weight. Postnatal d 1 plasma leptin levels were significantly reduced by about 50% in the nicotine treatment group compared with saline controls, suggesting that the infant monkeys exposed to nicotine may also have lower body fat levels. In situ hybridization studies demonstrated that chronic nicotine exposure resulted in a significant decrease in arcuate NPY mRNA expression in the neonatal monkeys. In addition, there was a 2-fold increase in POMC mRNA in the arcuate nucleus in the nicotine-exposed group. These data suggest that nicotine exposure during pregnancy may increase energy expenditure in the developing fetus through actions on hypothalamic systems, resulting in lower birth weights and body fat levels.