BACKGROUND: The adipocytokines leptin and adiponectin have been variously associated with diabetic microvascular complications. No comprehensive clinical data exist examining the association between adipocytokines and the presence of these complications. METHODS: This is a systematic review of cross-sectional studies comparing circulating adipocytokines in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), with and without microvascular complications. Studies were retrieved from MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus and Cochrane databases. Study quality was evaluated using a modified Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. Meta-analysis was performed using an inverse-variance model, providing standardised mean differences (SMD) and 95% confidence intervals (CI). Heterogeneity was determined by I(2) statistic. RESULTS: Amongst 554 identified studies, 28 were included in the review. Study quality range was 3.5-9 (maximum 11). Higher leptin levels were associated with microalbuminuria (SMD=0.41; 95% CI=0.14-0.67; n=901; p=0.0003), macroalbuminuria (SMD=0.68; 95% CI=0.30-1.06; n=406; p=0.0004), and neuropathy (SMD=0.26; 95% CI=0.07-0.44; n=609; p=0.008). Higher adiponectin levels were associated with microalbuminuria (SMD=0.55; 95% CI=0.29-0.81, n=274; p<0.001), macroalbuminuria (SMD=1.37; 95% CI=0.78-1.97, n=246; p<0.00001), neuropathy (SMD=0.25; 95% CI=0.14-0.36; n=1516; p<0.00001), and retinopathy (SMD=0.38; 95% CI=0.25-0.51; n=1306; p<0.00001). Meta-regression suggested no influence of body mass index and duration of diabetes on effect size, and a weak trend in terms of age on effect size. DISCUSSION: Our meta-analysis suggests leptin and adiponectin levels are higher in T2DM patients with microvascular complications. Studies were limited by cross-sectional design. Large prospective analyses are required to validate these findings.