Leptin is a 167-amino acid protein that is secreted from adipose cells and expressed in placental tissues. It is important nutritionally in the regulation of energy balance, but also has other functions such as a role in reproduction. To investigate the function of the leptin system in fetal development we examined, primarily by in-situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, the expression (both mRNA and protein) of leptin and its receptor (including the signalling splice variant) in tissues from 11·5, 13·5, 16·5 and 18·5 d postcoitus murine fetuses and associated placentas. We detected leptin mRNA (at low levels) and protein predominantly in the cytotrophoblasts of the labyrinth part of the placenta, an area of nutrient exchange between the developing fetus and the placenta, and in the trophoblast giant cells situated in the junctional zone at the maternal interface. In addition, leptin was strongly expressed in the fetal cartilage–bone and at a lower level in the hair follicles, heart, and liver of the murine fetus at differing stages of development. The leptin receptor, including the signalling splice variant, was also identified in specific fetal tissues. The physiological importance of expression of both leptin and the leptin receptor (OB-R and OB-Rb) in the placenta remains to be determined. In addition, the high levels of expression of leptin and its receptor in discrete areas of the murine fetus suggest that leptin has a critical role in fetal development.