Leptin decreases food intake and increases energy expenditure in rodents by inhibiting neurones in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. The growth hormone secretagogue (GHS) ghrelin is known to stimulate food intake and to be the endogenous ligand for the GHS-receptor, which is strongly expressed in the arcuate nucleus, like the leptin receptor (Ob-R). In this study, we analysed the effect of systemic ghrelin administration on Fos expression in the arcuate nucleus on neurones expressing Ob-R. Injection of ghrelin (0.2 mg/kg, i.p) significantly increased the number of neurones expressing Fos protein in the ventromedial arcuate nucleus. Fifty-seven percent of all Fos-positive cells in the ventromedial arcuate nucleus were also positive for Ob-R staining. Furthermore, we investigated electrophysiologically the effect of ghrelin and leptin on the activity of arcuate neurones in an in-vitro slice preparation. Ghrelin stimulated the electrical activity dose-dependently in 80% of all cells tested (n=49) with a threshold concentration of 10(-11) M; only 8% were inhibited and 12% did not respond. The effect of ghrelin (10(-7) M) was weakly antagonized by the peptidic GHS-receptor antagonist (D-Lys3)-GHRP-6 (10(-4) M), which also showed a much weaker affinity (IC(50), 0.9 x 10(-6) M) to the GHS-receptor than ghrelin (IC(50), 0.3 x 10(-9) M). Ghrelin increased the electrical activity in 76% of all cells which were inhibited by leptin (n=17). These data show that ghrelin interacts with the leptin hypothalamic network in the arcuate nucleus. The opposite effect of leptin and ghrelin on neurones in the arcuate nucleus may serve as a neurophysiological correlate of the orexigenic and anorectic effects of ghrelin and leptin.