Obesity is an important risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), and elevated serum leptin is characteristic of obesity. We hypothesized that leptin may have biological effects in promoting esophageal adenocarcinoma and examined the effects of leptin on the OE33 Barrett's-derived EAC line. Proliferation was assessed by dimethylthiazoldiphenyltetra-zoliumbromide and 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine incorporation assays and apoptosis by ELISA of intracellular nucleosomes. Intracellular signaling was examined using specific pharmacological inhibitors and direct detection of phosphorylated active kinases. Expression of the long and short leptin receptors by OE33 cells was confirmed by RT-PCR, Western blotting and immunocytochemistry. Leptin stimulated OE33 cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner and inhibited apoptosis. These effects were dependent on cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 and replicated by adding prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). The effects of PGE2 and leptin were abolished by the EP-4 antagonist AH23848. ERK, p38 MAPK, phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase/Akt, and Janus tyrosine kinase (JAK)-2 were activated upstream of COX-2 induction, whereas the epidermal growth factor receptor and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK) were downstream of COX-2. The activation of ERK and Akt but not p38 MAPK was JAK2 dependent. PGE2 stimulated phosphorylation of JNK in an EGF receptor-dependent manner, and activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor required protein kinase C, src, and matrix metalloproteinase activities. We conclude that leptin stimulates cell proliferation and inhibits apoptosis in OAC cells via ERK, p38 MAPK, phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase/Akt, and JAK2-dependent activation of COX-2 and PGE2 production. Subsequent PGE2-mediated transactivation of the epidermal growth factor receptor and JNK activation are essential to the leptin effects. These effects may contribute to the greatly increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma in obesity.