Neuropeptide Y (NPY), a 36 amino acid neuromodulator that is secreted by neurons throughout the peripheral and central nervous system, has been implicated in the control of many physiological processes. We have begun to examine its role in regulation of appetite, behavior, and excitotoxicity by examining mice that are unable to produce NPY as a consequence of gene inactivation. These mutant mice are remarkably normal when reared under standard vivarium conditions. Despite considerable evidence that NPY plays a central role in stimulating appetite, NPY-deficient mice eat normally, grow normally, and refeed after a fast normally. Furthermore, all of their endocrine responses to fasting are normal. The response of NPY-null mice to diet-induced obesity, chemically induced obesity (monosodium glutamate and gold thioglucose), and genetic-based obesity (lethal yellow agouti, Ay; uncoupling protein-diphtheria toxin transgenics, UCP-DT) were all normal. However, NPY deficiency does partially ameliorate the obesity and all of the adverse endocrine effects of leptin deficiency in ob/ob mice. NPY-null mice as well as mice deficient in both NPY and leptin are more sensitive to leptin, suggesting that NPY may normally have a tonic inhibitory action on leptin-mediated satiety signals. NPY-null mice display the normal voracious feeding response to injected NPY. Thus, the only condition where we have observed a role for NPY in body-weight regulation is in the context of complete leptin deficiency--where absence of NPY is beneficial. The activity and general behavior of NPY-null mice are normal. They appear to have normal spatial and contextual learning ability; however, they manifest more anxiety under some conditions. NPY-null mice occasionally display spontaneous, seizure-like events. They also are less able to terminate seizures induced by GABA receptor antagonists or glutamate receptor agonists. These observations are consistent with previous data suggesting that NPY plays an important role in dampening excitotoxicity.