The ob gene product, leptin, apparently exclusively expressed in adipose tissue, is a signaling factor regulating body weight homeostasis and energy balance. ob gene expression is increased in obese rodents and regulated by feeding, insulin, and glucocorticoids, which supports the concept that ob gene expression is under hormonal control, which is expected for a key factor controlling body weight homeostasis and energy balance. In humans, ob mRNA expression is increased in gross obesity; however, the effects of the above factors on human ob expression are unknown. We describe the structure of the human ob gene and initial functional analysis of its promoter. The human ob gene's three exons cover approximately 15 kb of genomic DNA. The entire coding region is contained in exons 2 and 3, which are separated by a 2-kb intron. The first small 30-bp untranslated exon is located >10.5 kb upstream of the initiator ATG codon. Three kilobases of DNA upstream of the transcription start site has been cloned and characterized. Only 217 bp of 5' sequence are required for basal adipose tissue-specific expression of the ob gene as well as enhanced expression by C/EBPalpha. Mutation of the single C/EBPalpha site in this region abolished inducibility of the promoter by C/EBPalpha in cotransfection assays. The gene structure will facilitate our analysis of ob mutations in human obesity, whereas knowledge of sequence elements and factors regulating ob gene expression should be of major importance in the prevention and treatment of obesity.