Objective: To review recent advances in understanding the role of leptin in the physiology and pathophysiology of reproduction, with a focus on relevant clinical situations.
Design: A MEDLINE computer search was performed to identify relevant articles.
Result(s): Leptin, an adipocyte hormone important in regulating energy homeostasis, interacts with the reproductive axis at multiple sites, with stimulatory effects at the hypothalamus and pituitary and inhibitory actions at the gonads. More recently, leptin has been shown to play a role in other target reproductive organs, such as the endometrium, placenta, and mammary gland, with corresponding influences on important physiologic processes such as menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation. As a marker of whether nutritional stores are adequate, leptin may act in concert with gonadotropins and the growth hormone axis to initiate the complex process of puberty. Conditions in which nutritional status is suboptimal, such as eating disorders, exercise-induced amenorrhea, and functional hypothalamic amenorrhea, are associated with low serum leptin levels; and conditions with excess energy stores or metabolic disturbances, such as obesity and polycystic ovarian syndrome, often have elevated serum or follicular fluid leptin levels, raising the possibility that relative leptin deficiency or resistance may be at least partly responsible for the reproductive abnormalities that occur with these conditions.
Conclusion(s): Leptin may act as the critical link between adipose tissue and the reproductive system, indicating whether adequate energy reserves are present for normal reproductive function. Future interventional studies involving leptin administration are expected to further clarify this role of leptin and may provide new therapeutic options for the reproductive dysfunction associated with states of relative leptin deficiency or resistance.