OBJECTIVE: Adipose tissue displays depot-specific metabolic properties and a predominant gene expression of leptin in subcutaneous tissue. The aim of the study was to evaluate leptin mRNA expression in various adipose tissues and to relate it to plasma leptin concentrations. Furthermore, developmental changes in leptin gene expression from childhood to adulthood were examined. DESIGN AND METHODS: Thoracic subcutaneous and intrathoracic adipose tissue specimens were obtained in 22 adults (51-81 years) and 23 children (0.1-17 years) undergoing cardiac surgery, and abdominal subcutaneous, omental and mesenterial fat specimens were collected from 21 adults (38-79 years) and 22 children (0.2-17 years) before abdominal surgery. Preoperative plasma leptin concentrations were measured by RIA. Leptin mRNA expression was quantified by TaqMan real-time PCR. RESULTS: In adults, there was no difference between leptin gene expression in subcutaneous and intrathoracic fat, whereas in children leptin mRNA expression was significantly higher in subcutaneous adipose tissue. In omental fat, leptin mRNA levels were significantly lower compared with subcutaneous and mesenterial sites in both children and adults. Adults revealed a significantly higher leptin gene expression in subcutaneous, omental and mesenterial adipose tissues than children. Subcutaneous and omental leptin gene expression are independent factors for plasma leptin concentrations in children and adults. CONCLUSION: Leptin is differentially expressed at different adipose tissue sites, a situation which is even more pronounced in children. There is a developmental increase in leptin mRNA expression in adipose tissue during childhood, reaching maximal capacity in adulthood.