In the few years since leptin was identified as a satiety factor in rodents, it has been implicated in the regulation of various physiological processes. Leptin has been shown to promote sexual maturation in rodent species and a role in reproduction has been investigated at various sites within the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis. This review considers the evidence that leptin (or alteration in amount of body fat) can affect reproduction. There is evidence that leptin plays a permissive role in the onset of puberty, probably through action on the hypothalamus, where leptin receptors are found in cells that express appetite-regulating peptides. There is little evidence that leptin has a positive effect on the pituitary gonadotrophs and the gonads. There is also very little indication that leptin acts in an acute manner to regulate reproduction in the short term. It seems more likely that leptin is a 'barometer' of body condition that sends signals to the brain. Studies in vitro have shown negative effects on ovarian steroid production and there are no reports of effects on testicular function. Leptin concentrations in plasma increase in women during pregnancy, owing to production by the placenta but the functional significance of this is unknown. A number of factors that affect the production and action of leptin have yet to be studied in detail.