Circulating angiotensin II acts on neurons in circumventricular organs, leading to activation of central pathways involved in blood pressure regulation and body fluid homeostasis. Apart from this primary effect, an increase in the level of circulating angiotensin II may also activate brain neurons as a secondary consequence of the associated increase in blood pressure, which will stimulate arterial baroreceptors and thus activate central neurons that are part of the central baroreceptor reflex pathway. The aim of this study was to identify the population of neurons that are activated as a consequence of the direct actions of circulating angiotensin II on the brain, independent of secondary baroreceptor-mediated effects. For this purpose, we have mapped the distribution of neurons in the brainstem and forebrain that are immunoreactive for Fos (a marker of neuronal activation) following intravenous infusion of angiotensin II in conscious rabbits with chronically denervated carotid sinus and aortic baroreceptors. The distribution was compared with that evoked by the same procedure in two separate groups of barointact rabbits, in which angiotensin II was infused either at a rate similar to that in the barodenervated group, or at a rate approximately five times greater. In barodenervated rabbits, angiotensin II infusion evoked a significant increase in Fos expression, compared to control animals infused with the vehicle solution alone, in several forebrain nuclei (organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis, subfornical organ, median preoptic nucleus, supraoptic nucleus, paraventricular nucleus, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and suprachiasmatic nucleus), but little or no increase in Fos expression in any lower brainstem region. In barointact rabbits infused with angiotensin II at a similar rate to that in barodenervated rabbits, a similar degree of Fos expression was evoked in all of the above forebrain regions, but in addition a significantly greater degree of Fos expression was evoked in several medullary regions (nucleus tractus solitarius, area postrema, and ventrolateral medulla), even though the angiotensin II-evoked increase in mean arterial pressure (17 ± 3 mmHg) was less than that evoked in the barodenervated rabbits (26 ± 2 mmHg). In barointact rabbits infused with angiotensin II at the higher rate, the increase in mean arterial pressure was 29 ± 3 mmHg. In these animals, the pattern of Fos expression was similar to that evoked in barointact rabbits infused at the lower rate, but the degree of Fos expression in all medullary regions and in some forebrain regions was significantly greater. The results of the present study, together with those of previous studies from our laboratory in which we determined the effects of phenylephrine-induced hypertension on brain Fos expression [Li and Dampney (1994) Neuroscience 61,613-634; Potts et al. (1997) Neuroscience 77, 503-520], indicate that in conscious rabbits circulating angiotensin II activates primarily circumventricular neurons within the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis and subfornical organ, but not the area postrema, and this in turn leads to activation of neurons in other forebrain regions, including the median preoptic, supraoptic, paraventricular and suprachiasmatic nucleus as well as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. In contrast, the activation of neurons in medullary regions evoked by an increase in the level of circulating angiotensin II is primarily a secondary effect resulting from stimulation of arterial baroreceptors.
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