The present study aimed to investigate the effects of leptin and ghrelin on pulsatile pulsatile gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion in vitro with emphasis on neuropeptide mediators and changes between prepuberty (15 days) and sexual maturity (50 days) in the male rat. When hypothalamic explants were studied 90 min after an intraperitoneal injection of leptin, ghrelin or agouti-related protein (AgRP) at 15 days, the GnRH interpulse interval (IPI) was significantly increased by ghrelin and AgRP and decreased by leptin. At 50 days, an increase in GnRH IPI was also caused by ghrelin and AgRP. When the peptides were directly incubated with the explants, the effects of leptin and AgRP in vitro were consistent with those seen after in vivo administration. By contrast, ghrelin resulted in a reduction of GnRH IPI and this was observed at 15 days only. To delineate the neuropeptide mediators of leptin and the effects of ghrelin in the hypothalamus, various hypothalamic neuropeptides and antagonists were used in vitro. At 15 days, the GnRH IPI was significantly decreased after incubation with cocaine and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART), alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone, corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) and neuropeptide Y (NPY). The reduction of GnRH IPI caused by leptin was partially prevented by either an anti-CART antiserum or SHU 9119, a melanocortin MC3/MC4 receptor antagonist or a CRF receptor antagonist. The NPY-Y5 receptor antagonist did not influence the effects of leptin whereas that antagonist totally prevented the decrease in GnRH IPI caused by ghrelin. The ghrelin-induced reduction of GnRH IPI was partially prevented by SHU 9119. When used alone, SHU 9119 or a CRF-receptor antagonist resulted in increased GnRH IPI at 50 days while they had no effects at 15 days. The NPY-Y5 receptor antagonist resulted in increased GnRH IPI at 15 and 50 days. In conclusion, leptin and ghrelin show opposing effects on pulsatile GnRH secretion after administration in vivo whereas they both have stimulatory effects in vitro. Such effects involve consistently the anorectic peptides CART and CRF for leptin that are mainly active at 15 days. The melanocortigenic system appears to mediate the effects of both leptin and ghrelin. The effects of ghrelin also involve NPY receptors and operate effectively before and at sexual maturity.