The role of leptin in obesity and insulin resistance is sometimes confusing. Some authors refer to leptin as a hormone, not an adipokine. Leptin is synthesized and released from adipose cells in response to adipose tissue changes. It reduces intracellular lipid levels in many types of body cells and thus improves insulin sensitivity. It is an appetite suppressant and inhibitor of fatty liver formation.
Leptin is referred to as a "starvation signal" and the leptin gene, is sometimes referred to as "the obesity gene". These names refer to leptin's important function as a messenger in energy metabolism. Leptin signals the hypothalamus when there are increases in fat stores. The hypothalamus then restores metabolic balance by decreasing appetite, stimulating physical activity, and burning of excess calories. During fasting, leptin levels decrease rapidly and hypothalamus signaling results in an increase in cortisol and a decrease in thyroid, sex, and growth hormones. These actions work together to restore energy balance.
Leptin is usually increased in obesity and leptin resistance may develop. In obesity, appetite suppression does not take place and metabolic rates are lowered. Secreted leptin is not able to stimulate energy balance and healthy caloric intake.