Leptin, the protein encoded by the obese (ob) gene, is synthesized and released in response to increased energy storage in adipose tissue. However, it is still not known how incoming energy is sensed and transduced into increased expression of the ob gene. The hexosamine biosynthetic pathway is a cellular 'sensor' of energy availability and mediates the effects of glucose on the expression of several gene products. Here we provide evidence for rapid activation of ob gene expression in skeletal muscle by glucosamine. Increased tissue concentrations of the end product of the hexosamine biosynthetic pathway, UDP-N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc), result in rapid and marked increases in leptin messenger RNA and protein levels (although these levels were much lower than those in fat). Plasma leptin levels and leptin mRNA and protein levels in adipose tissue also increase. Most important, stimulation of leptin synthesis is reproduced by either hyperglycaemia or hyperlipidaemia, which also increase tissue levels of UDP-N-acetylglucosamine in conscious rodents. Finally, incubation of 3T3-L1 pre-adipocytes and L6 myocytes with glucosamine rapidly induces ob gene expression. Our findings are the first evidence of inducible leptin expression in skeletal muscle and unveil an important biochemical link between increased availability of nutrients and leptin expression.