Leptin-replacement therapy for lipodystrophy

N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 21;346(8):570-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa012437.


Background: The adipocyte hormone leptin is important in regulating energy homeostasis. Since severe lipodystrophy is associated with leptin deficiency, insulin resistance, hypertriglyceridemia, and hepatic steatosis, we assessed whether leptin replacement would ameliorate this condition.

Methods: Nine female patients (age range, 15 to 42 years; eight with diabetes mellitus) who had lipodystrophy and serum leptin levels of less than 4 ng per milliliter (0.32 nmol per milliliter) received recombinant methionyl human leptin (recombinant leptin). Recombinant leptin was administered subcutaneously twice a day for four months at escalating doses to achieve low, intermediate, and high physiologic replacement levels of leptin.

Results: During treatment with recombinant leptin, the serum leptin level increased from a mean (+/- SE) of 1.3 +/- 0.3 ng per milliliter to 11.1 +/- 2.5 ng per milliliter (0.1 +/- 0.02 to 0.9 +/- 0.2 nmol per milliliter). The absolute decrease in the glycosylated hemoglobin value was 1.9 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 1.1 to 2.7 percent; P=0.001) in the eight patients with diabetes. Four months of therapy decreased average triglyceride levels by 60 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 43 to 77 percent; P<0.001) and liver volume by an average of 28 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 20 to 36 percent; P=0.002) in all nine patients and led to the discontinuation of or a large reduction in antidiabetes therapy. Self-reported daily caloric intake and the measured resting metabolic rate also decreased significantly with therapy. Overall, recombinant leptin therapy was well tolerated.

Conclusions: Leptin-replacement therapy improved glycemic control and decreased triglyceride levels in patients with lipodystrophy and leptin deficiency. Leptin deficiency contributes to the insulin resistance and other metabolic abnormalities associated with severe lipodystrophy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Basal Metabolism / drug effects
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Energy Intake / drug effects
  • Female
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / analysis
  • Humans
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Leptin / administration & dosage
  • Leptin / adverse effects
  • Leptin / deficiency
  • Leptin / therapeutic use*
  • Lipodystrophy / complications
  • Lipodystrophy / congenital
  • Lipodystrophy / drug therapy*
  • Lipodystrophy / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • Blood Glucose
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Leptin
  • Triglycerides