Obesity is a complex disease which results from the interaction of multiple genes and the environment. The recently discovered genes for leptin (ob gene) and the leptin receptor appear to play a major regulatory role in body energy balance and adipose tissue deposition. Furthermore, defects in the ob gene and leptin receptor gene have been demonstrated to be the cause of obesity in several rodent models. These observations raise the possibility that human obesity may also be due to defects in the leptin signal system. This review will summarize the current findings on the ob gene, leptin and the leptin receptor in both animals and humans. These observations will be discussed in the context of potential defects in the system and the possibility that these defects result in obesity in humans.