Circulating adiponectin levels are inversely associated with risk of various obesity-related cancers. However, the effect of adiponectin on carcinogenesis and progression of tongue squamous cell carcinoma (TSCC) remains unknown. We measured serum adiponectin levels in 59 patients with TSCC and 50 healthy controls. Expression of adiponectin and its receptors in paired tumor and paracancerous specimens were determined by immunohistochemical staining (n = 37) and western blot (n = 30), respectively. Serum adiponectin level was lower in patients than in controls (5.0 +/- 2.4 vs 8.4 +/- 3.5 mug/mL, P < 0.01), and was inversely associated with histological grade and lymph node metastasis but not tumor size. Local adiponectin levels in tumor tissue gradually decreased as tumor-node-metastasis stage increased, while the expression of adiponectin receptors was unchanged. In addition, serum adiponectin levels in the TSCC patients without metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, or without smoking and drinking habits, were still lower than in controls. Furthermore, adiponectin inhibited the migration, but not proliferation, of SCC15 cells in vitro. These results indicate that a decreased adiponectin level is associated with risk of TSCC. Hypoadiponectinemia might be used as a biomarker to predict an aggressive phenotype of TSCC.