Leptin mRNA was measured in adipose tissue of fetal sheep by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR). Abundance of leptin mRNA relative to b-actin mRNA in fetal perirenal adipose tissue increased (P<0.02) with gestation, being higher at 144 d (0.73 +/- 0. 10, n=5) than at 90-91 d (0.40 +/- 0.08, n=6) or 125 d (0.40 +/- 0. 04, n=5) gestation (term approximately 147- 150 d). There was a positive relationship between relative abundance of leptin mRNA (y) and fetal body weight (x)between 90 and 144 d gestation (r 2 =0.27, P<0.01). The slope of the linear dependence of leptin mRNA on fetal weight was 15-fold greater (P<0.001) at 90-91d (y = 2.81x - 1.1, n=6, r 2 =0.71, P<0.025) than between 125-144 d gestation (y = 0.195x - 0.15, n=16, r 2 =0.39, P<0.01). Thus the leptin synthetic capacity of fetal adipose tissue appears to increase in late gestation but this is accompanied by constraint of its sensitivity to fetal body weight. We hypothesise that leptin synthesis in fetal adipose tissue is related to fetal nutrient supply and growth rate.