Narrative review: the role of leptin in human physiology: emerging clinical applications

Ann Intern Med. 2010 Jan 19;152(2):93-100. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-152-2-201001190-00008.


Leptin is a hormone secreted by adipose tissue in direct proportion to amount of body fat. The circulating leptin levels serve as a gauge of energy stores, thereby directing the regulation of energy homeostasis, neuroendocrine function, and metabolism. Persons with congenital deficiency are obese, and treatment with leptin results in dramatic weight loss through decreased food intake and possible increased energy expenditure. However, most obese persons are resistant to the weight-reducing effects of leptin. Recent studies suggest that leptin is physiologically more important as an indicator of energy deficiency, rather than energy excess, and may mediate adaptation by driving increased food intake and directing neuroendocrine function to converse energy, such as inducing hypothalamic hypogonadism to prevent fertilization. Current studies investigate the role of leptin in weight-loss management because persons who have recently lost weight have relative leptin deficiency that may drive them to regain weight. Leptin deficiency is also evident in patients with diet- or exercise-induced hypothalamic amenorrhea and lipoatrophy. Replacement of leptin in physiologic doses restores ovulatory menstruation in women with hypothalamic amenorrhea and improves metabolic dysfunction in patients with lipoatrophy, including lipoatrophy associated with HIV or highly active antiretroviral therapy. The applications of leptin continue to grow and will hopefully soon be used therapeutically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Amenorrhea / etiology
  • Amenorrhea / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Atrophy / etiology
  • Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Leptin / deficiency*
  • Leptin / physiology*
  • Leptin / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Recombinant Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Weight Loss / physiology


  • Leptin
  • Recombinant Proteins