The product of the ob/ob gene, leptin, is known to be able to exert a modulator, role on HPA axis function. The aim of the present study was to determine whether endogenous ACTH and glucocorticoids exert any regulatory effect on leptin secretion. For this purpose bilaterally adrenalectomized (ADX) or sham operated (Sham) adult male rats were implanted with an indwelling i.v. catheter. A subgroup of ADX animals received, at the same time of surgery, a s.c. corticosterone (B) pellet (75 mg) (ADX+B). All animals were subjected to experimental designs 7 days after surgery. Our results indicate, as expected, that 7-day ADX animals have several fold increased basal ACTH plasma levels and non detectable circulating B, whereas ADX+B rats showed basal plasma ACTH levels in the range of Sham values and plasma B concentrations of about 5 microg/dl. Interestingly, basal plasma leptin levels were significantly (P < 0.05) decreased by 7 days post ADX, and B replacement therapy (ADX+B) restored circulating leptin to Sham levels. Acute dexamethasone (Dxmn, 30 microg/kg body weight, i.v.) treatment induced a very rapid decrease in plasma ACTH concentrations in both Sham and ADX rats, as well as a decrease in plasma B levels in Sham rats. Interestingly, Dxm test had no effect on plasma leptin levels in Sham animals; however, in ADX rats, the synthetic glucocorticoid increased plasma leptin concentrations, restoring the levels observed in Sham rats. This effect occurred at the same time when plasma ACTH levels were decreasing toward basal Sham values. These results clearly indicate that, beside the known effects of leptin on HPA axis function, circulating ACTH and glucocorticoid are able to modulate leptin secretion in plasma. The lack of circulating glucocorticoid and/or increased plasma ACTH concentrations, are responsible for decreasing leptin output, whereas decreased plasma ACTH concentrations allow an increase of leptin secretion in blood. Our data strongly support the existence of a closed, bi-directional, circuit between HPA axis function and adipose tissue metabolism. They further indicate the physiological relevance of different types of stress associated with many phenotypes of obesity.