Leptin, from fat to inflammation: old questions and new insights

FEBS Lett. 2005 Jan 17;579(2):295-301. doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2004.11.024.


Leptin is 16 kDa adipokine that links nutritional status with neuroendocrine and immune functions. Initially thought to be a satiety factor that regulates body weight by inhibiting food intake and stimulating energy expenditure, leptin is a pleiotropic hormone whose multiple effects include regulation of endocrine function, reproduction, and immunity. Leptin can be considered as a pro-inflammatory cytokine that belongs to the family of long-chain helical cytokines and has structural similarity with interleukin-6, prolactin, growth hormone, IL-12, IL-15, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor and oncostatin M. Because of its dual nature as a hormone and cytokine, leptin links the neuroendocrine and the immune system. The role of leptin in the modulation of immune response and inflammation has recently become increasingly evident. The increase in leptin production that occurs during infection and inflammation strongly suggests that leptin is a part of the cytokine network which governs the inflammatory-immune response and the host defense mechanisms. Leptin plays an important role in inflammatory processes involving T cells and has been reported to modulate T-helper cells activity in the cellular immune response. Several studies have implicated leptin in the pathogenesis of autoimmune inflammatory conditions, such as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and intestinal inflammation. Very recently, a key role for leptin in osteoarthritis has been demonstrated: leptin indeed exhibits, in concert with other pro-inflammatory cytokines, a detrimental effect on articular cartilage by promoting nitric oxide synthesis in chondrocytes. Here, we review the recent advances regarding leptin biology with a special focus on those actions relevant to the role of leptin in the pathophysiology of inflammatory processes and immune responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fats / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / physiology*
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Leptin / physiology*


  • Fats
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Leptin