• Prader-Willi syndrome;
  • obese controls;
  • body mass index (BMI);
  • leptin


Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) is characterized by early childhood obesity, mental deficiency, hypogonadism, hypotonia, hypopigmentation, short stature, small hands and feet, and a characteristic face. It is the most common genetic cause of obesity and obesity is the most significant health problem for PWS patients. Ob protein (leptin), which is produced by adipose tissue, is thought to play a significant role in obesity; thus, unusually low plasma leptin levels, or relative loss of sensitivity to leptin in PWS subjects, could be an important factor in their obesity. We measured plasma leptin levels in 19 obese and 14 non-obese PWS patients [mean body mass index (BMI) 37.2 and 22.0, respectively] and compared these levels to those of 28 obese controls (mean BMI 35.5) and 16 non-obese control individuals (mean BMI 21.6). The mean plasma leptin concentration (ng/ml) for obese PWS subjects was 33.4 and 23.6 for non-obese PWS subjects. Obese control leptin was 36.2 ng/ml and non-obese control was 9.9.

Among the control groups, leptin levels in females were significantly higher than those in males; the obese males and females had significantly higher leptin than their respective non-obese counterparts. These differences did not hold true for the PWS subjects. Leptin levels in obese PWS males and females were similar, and the same was true of the non-obese PWS males and females. The differences between obese and non-obese PWS subjects of both sexes were small and not significant. Comparing control groups with their PWS counterparts revealed no significant differences, with one exception: circulating plasma leptin levels in non-obese PWS males were nearly five times higher than in non-obese control males with similar BMI. This difference may reflect a more female pattern of fat distribution and hypogonadism, which are characteristic of PWS males. Leptin levels in PWS patients were not obviously correlated with the chromosome 15 finding seen in the patients. Am. J. Med. Genet. 75:7–12, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.