Anorexia and fever are important features of the host's response to inflammation that can be triggered by the bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and the appetite suppressant leptin. Previous studies have demonstrated that LPS induces leptin synthesis and secretion in the periphery, and that the action of leptin on appetite suppression and fever are dependent on brain interleukin (IL)-1beta. However, the role of leptin as a neuroimmune mediator of LPS-induced inflammation has not been fully elucidated. To address this issue, we neutralized circulating leptin using a leptin antiserum (LAS) and determined how this neutralization affected LPS-induced anorexia, fever and hypothalamic IL-1beta. Adult male rats were separated into four treatment groups, namely LPS + normal sheep serum (NSS), LPS + LAS, saline + LAS and saline + NSS. Intraperitoneal injection of LPS (100 microg kg(-1)) induced a significant reduction in food intake and body weight, which were significantly reversed in the presence of LAS (1 ml kg(-1)), 8 and 24 h after treatment. In addition, LPS-induced fever was significantly attenuated by LAS over the duration of the fever response (8 h). Lipopolysaccharide induced an increase of circulating IL-6, another potential circulating pyrogen, which was not affected by neutralization of leptin at 2 h. Interleukin-1beta mRNA at 1 and 8 h, and IL-1 receptor antagonist (ra) at 2 h were significantly upregulated in the hypothalamus of LPS-treated animals. The induction of these cytokines was attenuated in the presence of LAS. These results are the first to demonstrate that leptin is a circulating mediator of LPS-induced anorexia and fever, probably through a hypothalamic IL-1beta-dependent mechanism.