Plasma leptin levels in normal-weight and spontaneously obese male rhesus monkeys, and the relationships of circulating leptin to beta-cell basal secretion, glucose-stimulated responsiveness and peripheral insulin sensitivity, were determined. Basal leptin in normal lean adult monkeys averaged 6.0 +/- 1.3 ng/ml and in the obese monkeys averaged 22.6 +/- 2.9 ng/ml. In all monkeys, plasma leptin concentration was significantly related to body weight, body fat, fasting plasma insulin, acute insulin response to intravenous glucose, and peripheral insulin sensitivity but not to fasting glucose or glucose tolerance. Body fat and plasma insulin concentration were the best predictors of circulating leptin levels (R2 = 62.6%) independent of peripheral insulin sensitivity. Four of 17 obese monkeys had plasma leptin concentrations in the normal range, a finding that may be related to the heterogeneity of obesity. The close association of plasma leptin to body fat and plasma insulin (both basal and glucose-stimulated) support the possibility of a role of leptin in the link between obesity and beta-cell hypersecretion. However, the potential role of leptin in the development of peripheral insulin resistance, hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes will require further study.