The assimilation, storage and use of energy from nutrients constitute a homeostatic system that is essential for life. In vertebrates, the ability to store sufficient quantities of energy-dense triglyceride in adipose tissue allows survival during the frequent periods of food deprivation encountered during evolution. However, the presence of excess adipose tissue can be maladaptive. A complex physiological system has evolved to regulate fuel stores and energy balance at an optimum level. Leptin, a hormone secreted by adipose tissue, and its receptor are integral components of this system. Leptin also signals nutritional status to several other physiological systems and modulates their function. Here we review the role of leptin in the control of body weight and its relevance to the pathogenesis of obesity.