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Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;89(3):991S-997S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26788E. Epub 2009 Jan 28.

Leptin in humans: lessons from translational research.

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  • 1Hospital for Children and Adolescents, University of Leipzig, Germany


Leptin has emerged over the past decade as a key hormone in not only the regulation of food intake and energy expenditure but also in the regulation of neuroendocrine and immune function as well as the modulation of glucose and fat metabolism as shown by numerous observational and interventional studies in humans with (complete) congenital or relative leptin deficiency. These results have led to proof-of-concept studies that have investigated the effect of leptin administration in subjects with complete (congenital) leptin deficiency caused by mutations in the leptin gene as well as in humans with relative leptin deficiency, including states of lipoatrophy or negative energy balance and neuroendocrine dysfunction, as for instance seen with hypothalamic amenorrhea in states of exercise-induced weight loss. In those conditions, most neuroendocrine, metabolic, or immune disturbances can be restored by leptin administration. Leptin replacement therapy is thus a promising approach in several disease states, including congenital complete leptin deficiency, states of energy deprivation, including anorexia nervosa or milder forms of hypothalamic amenorrhea, as well as syndromes of insulin resistance seen in conditions such as congenital or acquired lipodystrophy. In contrast, states of energy excess such as garden-variety obesity are associated with hyperleptinemia that reflects either leptin tolerance or leptin resistance. For those conditions, development of leptin sensitizers is currently a focus of pharmaceutical research. This article summarizes our current understanding of leptin's role in human physiology and its potential role as a novel therapeutic option in human disease states associated with a new hormone deficiency, ie, leptin deficiency.

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