Pulmonary alveolar type II cells synthesize and secrete phospholipids and surfactant proteins. In most mammalian species, the synthesis of phospholipids and proteins of lung surfactant increases with fetal lung maturation, which occurs late in gestation. Factors that may promote lung maturation and surfactant production include the placental hormone, leptin, whose expression increases with advancing gestational age. We demonstrate that physiologic concentrations of leptin (1 and 10 ng/mL) increase the levels of surfactant proteins (SP) A, B, and C mRNA as well as SP-A and SP-B protein in d-17 fetal rat lung explants in vitro. To determine whether leptin exerts similar effects in vivo, we administered leptin antenatally to pregnant rats and compared its effects to that of dexamethasone, a known mediator of fetal lung development. Antenatal treatment with leptin for 2 d significantly increased the average weight of the fetal lungs in relation to their body weight. Histologic analysis revealed that the increase in fetal lung weight was accompanied by an increase in the number and maturation of type II alveolar cells and the expression of surfactant proteins B and C in these cells. Collectively, these results suggest that leptin is a cytokine regulator of rat fetal lung maturity.