Increased body mass index (BMI) has been correlated with increased blood pressure in human populations. To examine the role of the leptin gene (OB) in essential hypertension in African Americans, we performed affected sib pair analysis on a set of 103 hypertensive African American sibships using four highly polymorphic markers at the human leptin locus. No evidence of linkage was detected between these markers and the phenotype of essential hypertension either in these sibships or in a severely obese subset of 46 sibships in which each sibling had a BMI > or = 85th percentile for the US population. Using BMI rather than hypertension as a quantitative trait, we found significant linkage for the marker D7S504 (P=0.029) but not for the other markers. Significance strengthened in the overweight subset of sibships for this marker (P=0.001), and there was a trend of lower P values for the other three markers. However, multipoint analysis with the use of all four markers simultaneously to estimate linkage between BMI and the leptin locus did not demonstrate a statistically significant relationship. Analysis of the coding region of the leptin gene (exons 2 and 3) by single-strand conformational polymorphism revealed a rare Ile-Val polymorphism at amino acid 45 but revealed no other alterations. These results suggest that the OB gene is not a major contributor to the phenotype of essential hypertension in African Americans, although a minor contribution to the phenotype of extreme obesity in this group cannot be ruled out.