Objective: Leptin is the protein product of the recently cloned ob gene, that has been implicated in the control of body weight and thermogenesis, but also independently stimulates the reproductive axis. As major changes in body composition and gonadal function occur during human adolescence, we have assessed serum leptin concentration through childhood.
Subjects and measurements: Serum leptin was measured in a radioimmunoassay in samples from 235 healthy children from 5 to 18 years of age. Its relationship to body mass index (BMI) (expressed as standard deviation score (SDS)) and the changes in concentration both within and between sexes over the stages of puberty were analysed.
Results: Serum leptin was present at similar concentrations in both sexes over the prepubertal years and increased in parallel into early puberty (breast stage (B) 2, genital stage (G) 2). Thereafter serum leptin in the boys declined to a nadir in G5. In contrast in girls, leptin remained constant in mid-puberty rising to a peak at B5. Factors influencing leptin (BMI SDS, age and testicular volume) were assessed therefore in the pre- and peripubertal stages (B1-2, G1-2) compared to the later pubertal stages (B3-5, G3-5). In all groups, leptin was positively correlated to BMI SDS (r2 = 38-41% in girls, r2 = 31-35% in boys). However in B1-2 and G1-2, leptin was also positively related to age, which contributed a further 27% and 20% respectively to the variability. In B3-5, age only accounted for an additional 5% in leptin variability. In contrast in G3-5, leptin was related positively to BMI SDS (r2 = 35%) and negatively to testicular volume (r2 = 24%).
Conclusions: The influence of BMI on leptin is a significant factor throughout the prepubertal and pubertal years of both sexes. The additional negative effect of testicular volume in the boys contributes to the sexual dichotomy in leptin concentration at the completion of puberty. The similar rise in leptin over the prepubertal years into early puberty in both sexes, related not only to BMI SDS but also independently to age, would suggest that leptin may have a facilitatory role in human pubertal development.