To help elucidate the physiological role of leptin during somatic and sexual maturation, circulating concentrations of leptin were measured in 36 male rhesus monkeys of ages ranging from 0-20 yr. The body weight of these animals showed a steady increase of approximately 1 kg/yr during the first decade of life and reached a plateau at approximately 13 yr. In contrast, serum leptin concentrations showed a biphasic developmental pattern, which was highlighted by a strong negative correlation with body weight (r = -0.74, P < 0.001) before the onset of puberty (at approximately 3.5 yr) and by a strong positive correlation afterward (r = 0.77, P < 0.001). Overall, the developmental changes in serum leptin concentrations closely mimicked the expected developmental changes in serum testosterone concentrations (r = 0.62, P < 0.001), which were highly elevated at birth, fell to basal levels during the juvenile phase of development, and gradually rose again after the initiation of puberty. However, mean serum leptin concentrations during the peripubertal period itself (3-5 yr) were significantly lower (P < 0.01) than those observed during the first year of life or those observed in fully mature adults (i.e. > 7 yr) (3.5 +/- 0.3, 1.4 +/- 0.2, and 3.3 +/- 0.6 ng/ml, respectively). These data demonstrate that the role of leptin in energy homeostasis of primates is more than a simple linear relationship, being highly dependent upon the developmental age. Furthermore, the data do not support the hypothesis that leptin plays a major role in triggering the onset of puberty in primates, although the strong correlation between serum concentrations of leptin and testosterone suggests that the secretion of these two hormones may be causally linked.