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In the rat hypothalamus, fasting attenuates the expression of oxytocin and this can be reversed by exogenous leptin administration. In the present study, we investigated the effects of systemically administered leptin on the electrical activity of magnocellular neurones in the supraoptic nucleus of urethane-anaesthetised rats. In virgin female rats, systemic leptin significantly excited identified oxytocin neurones with no detected effects on the patterning of activity, as reflected by hazard function analyses. The lowest dose that was consistently effective was 100 μg/i.v., and this dose had no significant effect on vasopressin neurones. In virgin rats fasted overnight, the spontaneous firing rate of oxytocin neurones was significantly lower than in unfasted rats, although leptin had a similar excitatory effect as in unfasted rats. In late pregnant rats (days 19–21 of pregnancy), spontaneous firing rates of oxytocin neurones were higher than in virgins, and the initial response to leptin was similar to that in virgin rats, although the increase in activity was more persistent. In fasted pregnant rats, the mean spontaneous firing rate of oxytocin neurones was again lower than in unfasted rats, although leptin had no significant effect even at the higher dose of 1 mg/rat. Thus, fasting reduced the spontaneous firing rates of oxytocin neurones in nonpregnant rats, and this effect could be reversed by the excitatory effects of leptin. Pregnant rats showed some evidence of leptin resistance but only after an overnight fast.