Scope Obesity impairs cognition, and the leptin-induced increase of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurogenesis. Tea consumption improves cognition and increases brain activation in the prefrontal cortex. Methods and results This study examined whether teasaponin, an active ingredient in tea, could improve memory and central leptin effects on neurogenesis in the prefrontal cortex of obese mice, and in vitro in cultured prefrontal cortical neurons. Teasaponin (10 mg/kg, intraperitoneal) for 21 days improved downstream leptin signaling (JAK2 and STAT3), and leptin's effect on BDNF, in the prefrontal cortex of high-fat diet (HFD) fed mice. Prefrontal cortical neurons were cultured with teasaponin and palmitic acid (the most abundant dietary saturated fatty acid) to examine their effects on neurogenesis and BDNF expression in response to leptin. Palmitic acid decreased leptin's effect on neurite outgrowth, postsynaptic density protein 95, and BDNF expression in cultured cortical neurons, which was reversed by teasaponin. Conclusion Teasaponin improved the leptin sensitivity of prefrontal cortical neurons in obese mice or when treated by palmitic acid. This in turn increased BDNF expression and neurite growth. Therefore, teasaponin supplementation may be used to prevent obesity-associated neurodegeneration and improve cognitive function.