Circulating leptin concentrations are known to be low in acute anorexia nervosa (AN), which is characterized by low weight, amenorrhea and specific psychopathological features. In this study plasma leptin concentrations were determined during inpatient treatment of 23 adolescent females with AN using a sensitive radioimmunoassay (RIA) and set into relationship to leptin levels of females matched for age, body mass index (BMI; kg m-2) and/or percent body fat. At referral patients had leptin concentrations well below the female controls. Weight gains led to steep increases of leptin levels which peaked at values well in excess of those observed in controls matched for BMI. In patients who reached the final treatment stage and who were followed-up after discharge, levels subsequently fluctuated and finally dropped into or below the control range. The low leptin levels at referral are likely to be involved in the pathogenesis of amenorrhea and the reduced metabolic state of acutely ill patients. Peak leptin levels reached after weight gain are possibly the cause of increased energy expenditure during this stage of the disorder.