Obesity is a major predisposing factor for the development of several chronic diseases including non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and coronary heart disease (CHD). Leptin is a serum protein which is secreted by adipocytes and thought to play a role in the regulation of body fat. Leptin levels in humans have been found to be highly correlated with an individual's total adiposity. We performed a genome-wide scan and conducted multipoint linkage analysis using a general pedigree-based variance component approach to identify genes with measurable effects on quantitative variation in leptin levels in Mexican Americans. A microsatellite polymorphism, D2S1788, mapped to chromosome 2p21 (approximately 74 cM from the tip of the short arm) and showed strong evidence of linkage with serum leptin levels with a lod score of 4.95 (P = 9 x 10(-7)). This locus accounted for 47% of the variation in serum leptin levels, with a residual additive genetic component contributing an additional 24%. This region contains several potential candidate genes for obesity, including glucokinase regulatory protein (GCKR) and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC). Our results show strong evidence of linkage of this region of chromosome 2 with serum leptin levels and indicate that this region could contain an important human obesity gene.