Many peptides, hormones and growth factors have been implicated in the control of cell renewal in the gastrointestinal epithelium. Leptin is present in the stomach and salivary glands and leptin receptors are seen throughout the gut. Leptin can stimulate mitogen-activated protein kinase activity in vitro and short-term infusion has been reported to have a proliferative action on the colon in vivo, suggesting a biological link between obesity, physical activity and colon cancer. Food intake is one of the most important determinants of intestinal mucosal cell renewal, thus any direct effects of leptin on the gut may be hidden. This problem has been avoided experimentally by maintaining animals on total parenteral nutrition (TPN). Male Wistar rats were anaesthetized and cannulae were inserted into the jugular vein to deliver the TPN diet to which had been added 0, 0.5, 2.5, or 10 mg/kg of recombinant murine leptin. Orally fed rats were also studied. After 6 days of treatment, all animals were injected with vincristine and killed 2 h later. Tissue weight was recorded and crypt cell proliferation (arrested metaphases) and crypt fission were scored in 'microdissected' crypts. Leptin infusion led to a small decrease in body weight and in the weight of the caecum. Intestinal cell proliferation was significantly reduced by TPN when compared to the orally fed rats, but the addition of leptin had no effect on the small intestine or colon. Crypt fission was also significantly lowered in the TPN group. Fission was slightly but significantly increased in the proximal and mid-colon of the leptin-treated rats, but was decreased in the distal colon. Although leptin did not significantly alter cell proliferation, it had significant effects on the process of crypt fission in the colon, which varied according to the exact locality.