Elabela/Toddler Is an Endogenous Agonist of the Apelin APJ Receptor in the Adult Cardiovascular System, and Exogenous Administration of the Peptide Compensates for the Downregulation of Its Expression in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Circulation. 2017 Mar 21;135(12):1160-1173. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.023218. Epub 2017 Jan 30.


Background: Elabela/toddler (ELA) is a critical cardiac developmental peptide that acts through the G-protein-coupled apelin receptor, despite lack of sequence similarity to the established ligand apelin. Our aim was to investigate the receptor pharmacology, expression pattern, and in vivo function of ELA peptides in the adult cardiovascular system, to seek evidence for alteration in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in which apelin signaling is downregulated, and to demonstrate attenuation of PAH severity with exogenous administration of ELA in a rat model.

Methods: In silico docking analysis, competition binding experiments, and downstream assays were used to characterize ELA receptor binding in human heart and signaling in cells expressing the apelin receptor. ELA expression in human cardiovascular tissues and plasma was determined using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction, dual-labeling immunofluorescent staining, and immunoassays. Acute cardiac effects of ELA-32 and [Pyr1]apelin-13 were assessed by MRI and cardiac catheterization in anesthetized rats. Cardiopulmonary human and rat tissues from PAH patients and monocrotaline- and Sugen/hypoxia-exposed rats were used to show changes in ELA expression in PAH. The effect of ELA treatment on cardiopulmonary remodeling in PAH was investigated in the monocrotaline rat model.

Results: ELA competed for binding of apelin in human heart with overlap for the 2 peptides indicated by in silico modeling. ELA activated G-protein- and β-arrestin-dependent pathways. We detected ELA expression in human vascular endothelium and plasma. Comparable to apelin, ELA increased cardiac contractility, ejection fraction, and cardiac output and elicited vasodilatation in rat in vivo. ELA expression was reduced in cardiopulmonary tissues from PAH patients and PAH rat models, respectively. ELA treatment significantly attenuated elevation of right ventricular systolic pressure and right ventricular hypertrophy and pulmonary vascular remodeling in monocrotaline-exposed rats.

Conclusions: These results show that ELA is an endogenous agonist of the human apelin receptor, exhibits a cardiovascular profile comparable to apelin, and is downregulated in human disease and rodent PAH models, and exogenous peptide can reduce the severity of cardiopulmonary remodeling and function in PAH in rats. This study provides additional proof of principle that an apelin receptor agonist may be of therapeutic use in PAH in humans.

Keywords: Elabela/Toddler; apelin; cardiopulmonary; pulmonary hypertension; receptors, G-protein-coupled.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Apelin
  • Binding Sites
  • Catheterization
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Heart Ventricles / drug effects
  • Heart Ventricles / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / drug therapy*
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / physiopathology
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / agonists
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / chemistry
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / pharmacology
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Peptide Hormones / chemistry
  • Peptide Hormones / metabolism
  • Peptide Hormones / pharmacology
  • Peptide Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • APELA protein, human
  • APLN protein, human
  • Apelin
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Peptide Hormones
  • apelin-13 peptide