In order to study the effects of diet on fat distribution, circulating leptin levels and ob mRNA expression, diets of different macronutrient composition were fed to lean mice and gold thioglucose-obese mice. A high-fat diet and 2 high-carbohydrate diets, one containing mostly high-glycaemic-index starch and the other containing low-glycaemic-index starch were fed ad libitum for 10 weeks and were compared to standard laboratory chow. Weight gain was attenuated by feeding low-glycaemic-index starch in all mice and by feeding a high-fat diet in lean mice. Reduced adiposity was seen in lean mice fed low-glycaemic-index starch, whereas increased adiposity was seen in both lean and obese mice fed on the high-fat diet. Circulating leptin levels, when corrected for adiposity, were decreased in all mice fed either the high-fat diet or the low-GI diet. In epididymal fat pads, decreased ob mRNA expression was seen after both high-fat and high-glycaemic-index starch feeding. These results show that diet macronutrient composition contributes to the variability of circulating leptin levels by the combined effects of diet on fat distribution and on site-specific changes in ob mRNA expression.