Recent studies demonstrated significantly higher serum leptin concentrations in females as compared with males, even after correction for differences in body fat mass. The aim of our study was to measure serum leptin concentrations in a large group of obese children and adolescents to determine the possible role of sex steroid hormones on both leptin serum concentrations and production in human adipocytes. Obese girls were found to have significantly higher leptin concentrations than boys at the same degree of adiposity (25.2+/-14.1 vs. 17.2+/-12.6 ng/ml, P < 0.001). In a multiple regression analysis with age and body mass index (percent body fat) as fixed variables, it turned out that testosterone had a potent negative effect on serum leptin in boys, but not in girls. In vitro experiments using newly developed human adipocytes in primary culture showed that both testosterone and its biologically active metabolite dihydrotestosterone are able to reduce leptin secretion into the culture medium by up to 62%. Using a semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-PCR method, testosterone was found to suppress leptin mRNA to a similar extent. These results suggest that, apart from differences in body fat mass, the higher androgen concentrations in obese boys are responsible for the lower leptin serum concentrations compared with obese girls.