The decrease in estrogen in menopausal women increases body fat. The present studies were undertaken to investigate the involvement of estrogen in leptin production in vivo. In the first study, expression of ob gene mRNA in white adipose tissue was measured at 2 and 8 weeks after ovariectomy in rats. In the second, serum leptin concentration was measured in total body fat of 87 weight-matched human subjects (29 men, 29 premenopausal and 29 postmenopausal women). In the third, changes in serum leptin concentration with the menstrual cycle were determined, ob gene expression decreased in subcutaneous and retroperitoneal white adipose tissue of ovariectomized rats 8 weeks after the operation, while ovariectomy increased ob gene expression in mesenteric white adipose tissue. Serum leptin concentration was decreased by ovariectomy. Estradiol supplement reversed the effect of ovariectomy on ob gene expression and circulating leptin levels. In humans, serum leptin concentration was higher in premenopausal women than in men, and in postmenopausal women it was lower than in premenopausal women, but still higher than in men. In 13 premenopausal women, serum leptin levels were significantly higher in the luteal phase than in the follicular phase. The present studies strongly indicate that estrogen regulates leptin production in rats and human subjects in vivo. Regional variation in the regulation of ob gene expression by estrogen was found.