The discovery of leptin has imparted great impetus to adipose tissue research by demonstrating a more active role for the adipocyte in energy regulation. Besides leptin, however, the adipose tissue also secretes a large number other signals. Cytokine signals, TNFalpha and IL-6, and components of the alternative pathway of complement influence peripheral fuel storage, mobilization and combustion, as well as energy homeostasis. In addition to the acute regulation of fuel metabolism, adipose tissue also influences steroid conversion and sexual maturation. In this way, adipose tissue is an active endocrine organ, influencing many aspects of fuel metabolism through a network of local and systemic signals, which interact with the established neuroendocrine regulators of adipose tissue. Thus, insulin, catecholamines and anterior pituitary endocrine axes interact at multiple levels with both cytokines and leptin. It may be proposed that the existence of this network of adipose tissue signalling pathways, arranged in an hierarchical fashion, constitutes a metabolic repertoire which enables the organism to adapt to a range of different metabolic challenges, including starvation, reproduction, times of physical activity, stress and infection, as well as short periods of gross energy excess. However, the occurrence of more prolonged periods of energy surplus, leading to obesity, is an unusual state in evolutionary terms, and the adipose tissue signalling repertoire, although sophisticated, adapts poorly to these conditions. Rather, the responses of the adipose tissue endocrine network to obesity are maladaptive, and lay the foundations of metabolic disease.