Leptin is a versatile 16 kDa peptide hormone, with a tertiary structure resembling that of members of the long-chain helical cytokine family. It is mainly produced by adipocytes in proportion to fat size stores, and was originally thought to act only as a satiety factor. However, the ubiquitous distribution of OB-R leptin receptors in almost all tissues underlies the pleiotropism of leptin. OB-Rs belong to the class I cytokine receptor family, which is known to act through JAKs (Janus kinases) and STATs (signal transducers and activators of transcription). The OB-R gene is alternatively spliced to produce at least five isoforms. The full-length isoform, OB-Rb, contains intracellular motifs required for activation of the JAK/STAT signal transduction pathway, and is considered to be the functional receptor. Considerable evidence for systemic effects of leptin on body mass control, reproduction, angiogenesis, immunity, wound healing, bone remodelling and cardiovascular function, as well as on specific metabolic pathways, indicates that leptin operates both directly and indirectly to orchestrate complex pathophysiological processes. Consistent with leptin's pleiotropic role, its participation in and crosstalk with some of the main signalling pathways, including those involving insulin receptor substrates, phosphoinositide 3-kinase, protein kinase B, protein kinase C, extracellular-signal-regulated kinase, mitogen-activated protein kinases, phosphodiesterase, phospholipase C and nitric oxide, has been observed. The impact of leptin on several equally relevant signalling pathways extends also to Rho family GTPases in relation to the actin cytoskeleton, production of reactive oxygen species, stimulation of prostaglandins, binding to diacylglycerol kinase and catecholamine secretion, among others.