Leptin is a hormonal product of adipose tissue whose expression reflects the body state of nutritional reserves. Previous experiments have demonstrated that leptin is one of the metabolic signals capable of regulating GH secretion. The aim of the present study was to evaluate whether CNS-mediated mechanisms underlie the GH-releasing activity of leptin. Freely moving mature male rats were injected i.c.v with leptin or isovolumetric amounts of diluent once daily for 3 days and were killed 2 h after the last administration. Central injection of leptin increased pituitary GH mRNA levels by 53. 2% and hypothalamic GHRH mRNA by 61.8%, and reduced somatostatin mRNA levels by 41.5%. To evaluate the direct effect of leptin on the pituitary, it was added alone or in combination with GHRH to primary cultures of anterior pituitary cells. Addition of leptin (10(-11)-10(-7) M) did not alter basal GH release nor the GH-releasing activity of GHRH. These results demonstrate that leptin is a metabolic signal that regulates GH secretion in the rat by acting on hypothalamic GH-regulatory hormones.