Leptin released by adipocytes has been implicated in the control of food intake but recent detection of specific leptin receptors in the pancreas suggests that this peptide may also play some role in the modulation of pancreatic function. This study was undertaken to examine the effect of exogenous leptin on pancreatic enzyme secretion in vitro using isolated pancreatic acini, or in vivo in conscious rats with chronic pancreatic fistulae. Leptin plasma level was measured by radioimmunoassay following leptin administration to the animals. Intraperitoneal (i.p.) administration of leptin (0.1, 1, 5, 10, 20 or 50 microg/kg), failed to affect significantly basal secretion of pancreatic protein, but markedly reduced that stimulated by feeding. The strongest inhibition has been observed at dose of 10 microg/kg of leptin. Under basal conditions plasma leptin level averaged about 0.15 +/- 0.04 ng/ml and was increased by feeding up to 1.8 +/- 0.4 ng/ml. Administration of leptin dose-dependently augmented this plasma leptin level, reaching about 0.65 +/- 0.04 ng/ml at dose of 10 microg/kg of leptin. This dose of leptin completely abolished increase of pancreatic protein output produced by ordinary feeding, sham feeding or by diversion of pancreatic juice to the exterior. Leptin (10(-10)-10(-7) M) also dose-dependently attenuated caerulein-induced amylase release from isolated pancreatic acini, whereas basal enzyme secretion was unaffected. We conclude that leptin could take a part in the inhibition of postprandial pancreatic secretion and this effect could be related, at least in part, to the direct action of this peptide on pancreatic acini.