Leptin is an adipocyte-derived hormone/cytokine that links nutritional status with neuroendocrine and immune functions. In humans, leptin influences energy homeostasis and regulates neuroendocrine function primarily in states of energy deficiency. Initially described as an antiobesity hormone, leptin has subsequently been shown also to influence basal metabolism, hematopoiesis, thermogenesis, reproduction, and angiogenesis. As a cytokine, leptin can affect thymic homeostasis and the secretion of acute-phase reactants such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor-necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α). Leptin links nutritional status and proinflammatory T helper 1 (Th1) immune responses and the decrease in leptin plasma concentration during food deprivation leads to impaired immune function. Similar to other pro-inflammatory cytokines, leptin promotes Th1-cell differentiation and can modulate the onset and progression of autoimmune responses in several animal models of disease. Here, we review the advances and controversy for a role of leptin in the pathophysiology of immune responses and discuss novel possible therapeutic implications for leptin modulators.
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