Consumption of a high-fat diet decreases hypothalamic neuropeptide Y (NPY) and increases proopiomelanocortin (POMC) and brown adipose uncoupling protein (UCP)-1 mRNA in obesity-resistant SWR/J but not obesity-prone C57Bl/6J mice. Although leptin was elevated in both strains in response to a high-fat diet, its role in the development of diet-induced obesity has remained unclear since insulin and other factors that affect similar tissue targets are altered. Thus, we administered recombinant leptin by subcutaneous infusion to chow-fed mice to mimic the changes in plasma leptin across its broad physiologic range. We observed strain differences in responsiveness to reduced and elevated leptin levels. A reduction in leptin during fasting evoked a greater response in C57Bl/6J mice by decreasing energy expenditure and thyroxin, increasing corticosterone and stimulating food intake and weight gain during refeeding. However, C57Bl/6J mice were less responsive to an increase in leptin in the fed state. Conversely, the leptin-mediated response to fasting was blunted in SWR/J mice, whereas an increase in leptin profoundly reduced food intake and body weight in SWR/J mice fed ad libitum. Sensitivity to fasting in C57Bl/6J mice was associated with higher hypothalamic NPY mRNA and reduced POMC and UCP-1 mRNA expression, while the robust response to high leptin levels in SWR/J mice was associated with suppression of NPY mRNA. These results indicate that differences in leptin responsiveness between strains might occur centrally or peripherally, leading to alteration in the patterns of food intake, thermogenesis and energy storage.