Leptin, a hormone involved in appetite and metabolic energy expenditure, could have a role in the reduced appetite and/or energy expenditure after burn injury. In this study, the diurnal pattern of circulating leptin concentrations was compared with body mass index (BMI), sex, glucose, insulin, and the diurnal cortisol rhythm in burn patients. Plasma samples were collected at 12:00 pm and 02:00 am from severely burned adults and children. Circulating leptin, insulin, and cortisol were measured by radioimmunoassay. Results were compared with previously published data from healthy control subjects. Overall, plasma leptin levels were lower in burn patients (5.7 +/- 1.2 ng/mL) compared with control subjects (10.5 +/- 1.7 ng/mL, P = .02). The normal nocturnal increase of circulating leptin concentrations observed in control subjects was completely absent in burn patients. Cortisol levels were higher in burn patients (20.4 +/- 1.0 mg/dL) than in control subjects (9.8 +/- 1.6 mg/dL, P < .0001) and the normal circadian decrease of circulating cortisol levels was markedly blunted in burn patients. Plasma cortisol did not correlate with circulating leptin levels. Plasma insulin and plasma glucose levels were significantly elevated in burn patients and the insulin:glucose ratio was dramatically increased compared with control subjects. Patients with burn injuries exhibited significantly decreased circulating leptin levels. This decrease may be the result of marked insulin resistance, as suggested by the elevated insulin to glucose ratio in burn patients. The loss of the diurnal pattern in burn patients is likely to result from the continuous nutritional supplementation. Because low leptin levels should induce appetite, burn-related anorexia is probably controlled by other regulatory systems.