The present study was performed to determine the effects of central administration of leptin on food intake and sympathetic nervous system activity in a nonrodent species, the rhesus monkey. Peripheral administration of leptin at doses (1 and 3 microg/kg, s.c.) that produced increments of circulating leptin concentrations within a physiological range did not inhibit food intake over the subsequent 3 days. In contrast, leptin (1 microg/kg, intracerebroventricularly) had no acute effect on food intake, but caused a significant and sustained suppression (40-50%) of food intake during the entire following day (P < 0.01). In addition, circulating norepinephrine levels increased by 55 +/- 16% (P < 0.02) 1 h after intracerebroventricular leptin administration, but did not increase after artificial cerebrospinal fluid administration. These results indicate that leptin can provide a signal to the central nervous system that decreases food intake in primates and in addition acutely activates the sympathetic nervous system. However, the results showing an acute increase in circulating leptin concentrations after peripheral administration of human leptin suggest that in primates, increases in circulating leptin within the physiological range do not acutely regulate food intake. Leptin may be more important in regulating food intake when there are sustained changes in circulating concentrations of leptin (e.g. with obesity, prolonged energy restriction, or diabetes).