The presence of melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) containing processes, projecting from the lateral hypothalamus to the medial nucleus tractus solitarius (mNTS), has been reported in the rat. It was hypothesized that MCH acting within the mNTS may modulate the central regulation of cardiovascular function. This hypothesis was tested in urethane-anesthetized, artificially ventilated, adult male Wistar rats. Microinjections (100 nl) of MCH (0.25, 0.5, 0.75, and 1 mM) into the mNTS of anesthetized rats elicited decreases in mean arterial pressure (20.4+/-1.6, 50.7+/-3.3, 35.7+/-2.8 and 30.0+/-2.6 mm Hg, respectively). The decreases in heart rate in response to these concentrations of MCH were 40.0+/-8.7, 90.0+/-13.0, 48.0+/-7.3 and 48.0+/-8.0 beats/min, respectively. Maximum cardiovascular responses were elicited by a 0.5 mM concentration of MCH. Cardiovascular responses to MCH were similar in unanesthetized mid-collicular decerebrate rats. Control microinjections of normal saline (100 nl) did not elicit any cardiovascular response. Ipsilateral or bilateral vagotomy significantly attenuated MCH-induced bradycardia. Prior microinjections of PMC-3881-PI (2 mM; MCH-1 receptor antagonist) into the mNTS blocked the cardiovascular responses to microinjections of MCH. Microinjection of MCH (0.5 mM) into the mNTS decreased efferent greater splanchnic nerve activity. Direct application of MCH (0.5 mM; 4 nl) to barosensitive nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) neurons increased their firing rate. These results indicate that: 1) MCH microinjections into the mNTS activate MCH-1 receptors and excite barosensitive NTS neurons, causing a decrease in efferent sympathetic activity and blood pressure, and 2) MCH-induced bradycardia is mediated via the activation of the vagus nerves.