Leptin, the obese (ob) gene product, is thought to be a lipostatic hormone that contributes to body weight regulation through modulating feeding behavior and/or energy expenditure. The determinants of plasma leptin concentration were evaluated in 267 subjects (106 with normal glucose tolerance, 102 with impaired glucose tolerance, and 59 with noninsulin-dependent diabetes). Fasting plasma leptin levels ranged from 1.8-79.6 ng/mL (geometric mean, 12.4), were higher in the obese subjects, and were not related to glucose tolerance. Women had approximately 40% higher leptin levels than men at any level of adiposity. After controlling for body fat, postmenopausal women had still higher leptin levels than men of similar age, and their levels were not different from those in younger women. Multiple regression analysis showed that adiposity, gender, and insulinemia were significant determinants of leptin concentration, explaining 42%, 28%, and 2% of its variance, respectively. Neither age nor the waist/hip ratio was significantly related to leptin concentration. Thus, our data indicate that gender is a major determinant of the plasma leptin concentration. This sex difference is not apparently explained by sex hormones or body fat distribution. Leptin's sexual dimorphism suggests that women may be resistant to its putative lipostatic actions and that it may have a reproductive function.