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Key points

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    Apelin receptor mRNA is expressed in the subfornical organ.
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    Apelin influences the excitability of the majority of subfornical organ neurons, with similar proportion showing depolarizing and hyperpolarizing effects.
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    Hyperpolarizations appear to result from the activation of a sustained voltage-activated potassium conductance, while depolarizations may result from modulation of a non-selective cationic conductance.
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    In vivo microinjection of apelin into the subfornical organ results in decreases in blood pressure.

Abstract  Apelin is an adipocyte-derived hormone involved in the regulation of water balance, food intake and the cardiovascular system partially through actions in the CNS. The subfornical organ (SFO) is a circumventricular organ with identified roles in body fluid homeostasis, cardiovascular control and energy balance. The SFO lacks a normal blood–brain barrier, and is thus able to detect circulating signalling molecules such as angiotensin II and leptin. In this study, we investigated actions of apelin-13, the predominant apelin isoform in brain and circulatory system, on the excitability of dissociated SFO neurons using electrophysiological approaches, and determined the cardiovascular consequences of direct administration into the SFO of anaesthetized rats. Whole cell current clamp recording revealed that bath-applied 100 nm apelin-13 directly influences the excitability of the majority of SFO neurons by eliciting either depolarizing (31.8%, mean 7.0 ± 0.8 mV) or hyperpolarizing (28.6%, mean −10.4 ± 1.8 mV) responses. Using voltage-clamp techniques, we also identified modulatory actions of apelin-13 on specific ion channels, demonstrating that apelin-13 activates a non-selective cationic conductance to depolarize SFO neurons while activation of the delayed rectifier potassium conductance underlies hyperpolarizing effects. In anaesthetized rats, microinjection of apelin into SFO decreased both blood pressure (BP) (mean area under the curve −1492.3 ± 357.1 mmHg.s, n= 5) and heart rate (HR) (−32.4 ± 10.39 beats, n= 5). Our data suggest that circulating apelin can directly affect BP and HR as a consequence of the ability of this peptide to modulate the excitability of SFO neurons.