Leptin communicates nutritional status to regulatory centers in the brain. Because peripheral leptin influences the activity of the highly pulsatile adrenal and gonadal axes, we sought to determine whether leptin levels in the blood are pulsatile. We measured circulating leptin levels every 7 minutes for 24 hours, in six healthy men, and found that total circulating leptin levels exhibited a pattern indicative of pulsatile release, with 32.0 +/- 1.5 pulses every 24 hours and a pulse duration of 32.8 +/- 1.6 minutes. We also show an inverse relation between rapid fluctuations in plasma levels of leptin and those of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol that could not be accounted for on the basis of glucocorticoid suppression of leptin. As leptin levels are pulsatile, we propose that a key function of the CNS is regulated by a peripheral pulsatile signal. In a separate pilot study we compared leptin pulsatility in 414 plasma samples collected every 7 minutes for 24 hours from one obese woman and one normal-weight woman. We found that high leptin levels in the obese subject were due solely to increased leptin pulse height; all concentration-independent pulsatility parameters were almost identical in the two women. Leptin pulsatility therefore can be preserved in the obese.