Caloric imbalance, particularly in critical periods of growth and development, is often the underlying cause of growth abnormalities. Serum levels of leptin are elevated in obesity and are low in malnutrition and malabsorption. The aim of the present study was to determine whether leptin integrates energy levels and growth in vivo, as shown previously in our ex vivo experiments, even in the presence of caloric restriction. In the first part of the study, mice were divided into three groups. Two groups were fed ad libitum and received leptin or vehicle only, and the third group was pair-fed with the group injected with leptin to dissociate leptin's effect on growth from its effect on food consumption. Mice given leptin had a significantly greater tibial length than untreated pair-fed animals and a similar tibial length as control mice fed ad libitum despite their lower weight. In addition, leptin significantly increased the overall size of the epiphyseal growth plate by 11%. On immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization studies, leptin stimulated both the proliferation and differentiation of tibial growth plate chondrocytes without affecting the overall organization of the plate. There was also a marked increase in the expression and level of IGF-IR. In the second part of the study, two groups of mice were fed only 60% of their normal chow; one was injected with leptin, and the other was injected with vehicle alone. Caloric deprivation by itself reduced serum levels of IGF-I by 70% and the length of the tibia by 5%. Leptin treatment corrected the fasting-induced growth deficiency, but further reduced the level of serum IGF-I. These results indicate that leptin stimulates growth even in the presence of caloric restriction independently of peripheral IGF-I.