Whether use of hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) influences menopause-related changes in body weight is unclear. HRT may affect energy balance by influencing synthesis of the adipocyte-derived hormone leptin. The objectives of this study were to: 1) identify factors influencing circulating leptin in postmenopausal women; 2) determine whether HRT influences serum leptin after adjusting for confounding factors; and, 3) identify potential independent effects of HRT or leptin on resting energy expenditure (REE). Subjects were 54 postmenopausal women, 45-55 yr old, 35 of whom used HRT (estrogen plus progestin). Total and regional body composition and fat distribution were determined by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry and computed tomography; fasting serum leptin and insulin, by RIA; and REE, by indirect calorimetry. Stepwise multiple linear regression analysis indicated that serum leptin could best be predicted from total fat mass, fasting serum insulin, and total lean mass [log leptin = 1.08 x log fat mass) + (0.46 x log insulin) + (-1.25 x log lean mass) + 1.88; model R2 = 0.78, P < 0.001]. Multiple linear regression analysis indicated that visceral fat was independently related to leptin (parameter estimate = 0.23, P < 0.05), after adjusting for s.c. abdominal fat and leg fat, as well as lean mass and insulin. After adjusting for total fat mass, total lean mass, and fasting insulin, serum leptin did not differ between users and nonusers of HRT (21.7 +/- 1.0 vs. 20.2 +/- 1.3 ng/mL, P = 0.369, adjusted mean +/- SE, respectively). Serum estradiol was inversely correlated with (adjusted) leptin in non-HRT users (r = -0.50), suggesting that ovarian senescence may lead to an increase in leptin. Multiple linear regression analysis indicated that REE (adjusted for fat mass, fat-free mass, and ethnicity) was not associated with leptin (P = 0.298) or hormone use status (P = 0.999; 1323 +/- 31 vs. 1316 +/- 42 kcal/day, adjusted mean +/- SE for users and nonusers, respectively). These results indicate that, in postmenopausal women: 1) total fat mass, lean mass, and fasting insulin, but not HRT, are significant determinants of serum leptin; 2) visceral and s.c. fat contribute to serum leptin; and, 3) neither HRT nor leptin is independently related to REE.