The appetite suppressing hormone leptin has emerged as an important modulator of immune function and is now considered to be a critical link between energy balance and host defense responses to pathogens. These 'adaptive' responses can, in situations of severe and sustained systemic inflammation, lead to adverse effects including brain damage that is partly mediated by neutrophil recruitment into the brain. We examined the contribution of leptin to this process in leptin-deficient (ob/ob), -resistant (db/db) and wild-type (WT) mice injected intraperitoneally with a septic dose of lipopolysaccharide (LPS). This treatment induced a dramatic increase in the number of neutrophils entering the brain of WT mice, an effect that was almost totally abolished in the mutant mice and correlated with a significant reduction in the mRNA levels of interleukin-1beta, intracellular adhesion molecule-1 and neutrophil-specific chemokines. These effects were reversed with leptin replenishment in ob/ob mice leading to recovery of neutrophil recruitment into the brain. Moreover, 48 h food deprivation in WT mice, which decreased circulating leptin levels, attenuated the LPS-induced neutrophil recruitment as did a single injection of an anti-leptin antiserum 4 h before LPS treatment in WT mice. These results provide the first demonstration that leptin has a critical role in leukocyte recruitment to the brain following severe systemic inflammation with possible implications for individuals with altered leptin levels such as during obesity or starvation.