Leptin (OB protein), the product of the adipose-specific ob gene, exerts important effects in the regulation of food intake and energy expenditure. Based upon results from animal studies, several groups have suggested that this action may be exerted in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamic region. However, to date, the localization of the OB-R in the human brain has not been described. One aim of this study was to contribute to a better understanding of the role that the central nervous system plays in the pathogenesis of obesity in humans. A first stage was to determine the OB-R expression in the human brain by means of immunohistochemistry and Western blotting. Several brain regions from 17 lean, 14 obese, and 4 diabetic (NIDDM) subjects, obtained from archival autopsy material, were sampled. Brain samples from neocortex, hypothalamus, medulla, limbic system, pineal and cerebellum were routinely processed in paraffin and analyzed with the avidin-biotin immunoperoxidase and diaminobenzidine detection method. Western blotting (WB) analysis was done on fresh brain tissue from an obese patient. Specific OB-R immunoreactivity was localized in the choroid plexus epithelium, ependymal lining, and neurons of the hypothalamic nuclei (arcuate, suprachiasmatic, mamillary, paraventricular, dorsomedial, supraoptic and posterior), nucleus basalis of Meynert, inferior olivary nuclei and cerebellar Purkinje cells. No differences in OB-R immunoreactivity were found among the three groups examined. WB analysis yielded 97- and 125-kD bands in the hypothalamus and cerebellum. In summary, this paper presents the first evidence to indicate the specific localization of the OB-R in the brain of lean, obese and NIDDM subjects.