Treatment of rodents with exogenous leptin increases SOCS-3 mRNA levels in the arcuate nucleus (ARC) and dorsomedial nucleus (DMN) of the hypothalamus. To determine if SOCS-3 gene activity in the hypothalamus could be influenced by changes in physiological levels of circulating leptin, we performed in situ hybridization (ISH) and immunostaining for SOCS-3 expression in fed vs. fasted (48 h) rats. The ARC and DMN were the only regions of the diencephalon that showed SOCS-3 ISH and the autoradiographic ISH signal for SOCS-3 mRNA was visibly less in the ARC and DMN of fasted rats. The ISH signal for SOCS-3 mRNA was decreased 70% in the ARC and 90% in the DMN (to background levels) when animals were fasted (P<0.01), consistent with decreased immunostaining for SOCS-3 protein observed in the fasted rats. Double fluorescence ISH (FISH) analyses showed colocalization of SOCS-3 mRNA with mRNAs for NPY and POMC in the ARC. These findings are consistent with increased leptin signaling to the NPY and POMC neurons in the ARC by physiological levels of circulating leptin during normal feeding. Therefore, changes in SOCS-3 mRNA levels in the ARC and DMN can be viewed as an indicator of relative physiological leptin signaling to the hypothalamus and also identify cells responding directly to leptin signaling through its cognate receptor.