Aims: Elabela/Toddler/Apela (ELA) has been identified as a novel endogenous peptide ligand for APJ/Apelin receptor/ Aplnr. ELA plays a crucial role in early cardiac development of zebrafish as well as in maintenance of self-renewal of human embryonic stem cells. Apelin was the first identified APJ ligand, and exerts positive inotropic heart effects and regulates the renin–angiotensin system. The aim of this study was to investigate the biological effects of ELA in the cardiovascular system. Methods and results: Continuous infusion of ELA peptide significantly suppressed pressure overload-induced cardiac hypertrophy, fibrosis and impaired contractility in mice. ELA treatment reduced mRNA expression levels of genes associated with heart failure and fibrosis. The cardioprotective effects of ELA were diminished in APJ knockout mice, indicating that APJ is the key receptor for ELA in the adult heart. Mechanistically, ELA downregulated angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) expression in the stressed hearts, whereas it showed little effects on angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) expression, which are distinct from the effects of Apelin. FoxM1 transcription factor, which induces ACE expression in the stressed hearts, was downregulated by ELA but not by Apelin. ELA antagonized angiotensin II-induced hypertension, cardiac hypertrophy, and fibrosis in mice. Conclusion: The ELA-APJ axis protects from pressure overload-induced heart failure possibly via suppression of ACE expression and pathogenic angiotensin II signalling. The different effects of ELA and Apelin on the expression of ACE and ACE2 implicate fine-tuned mechanisms for a ligand-induced APJ activation and downstream signalling.
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