In previous studies we demonstrated that in normotensive rats, but not in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR), atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) enhances bradycardic reflexes through an action on cardiac vagal afferent pathways. The present study aimed to determine whether cardiac hypertrophy, hypertension, or a nonreversible genetic factor accounted for the insensitivity of SHR to ANP action on cardiac reflex pathways. SHR were treated with the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor perindopril (3 mg/kg per day) for 6 weeks from 4 to 9 weeks of age (SHR-S, n=10) or for 9 weeks from 4 to 12 weeks of age (SHR-L, n=10) or were untreated (SHR, n=10) to produce differential effects on blood pressure and left ventricle/body weight ratio (LV/BW). Untreated normotensive Wistar-Kyoto rats (WKY, n=10) were also studied. At 13 weeks of age, all rats were instrumented with aortic and jugular catheters, and at 14 weeks we measured heart rate reflexes to rapid intravenous infusions of methoxamine (100 microg/kg, cardiac baroreflex) and serotonin (5 to 60 microg/kg, von Bezold-Jarisch cardiac chemosensitive reflex), with either alpha-rat ANP (150 ng/kg per minute IV) or saline vehicle (270 microL/h IV) infusion. Perindopril treatment for 6-week (SHR-S) and 9-week (SHR-L) durations maintained blood pressure at normotensive levels in both groups. SHR-S exhibited a small degree of cardiac hypertrophy (LV/BW was 8% higher than in WKY but 11% less than in untreated SHR), but LV/BW was normalized in SHR-L (to within 1% of WKY LV/BW). In WKY, ANP significantly (P<0.05) enhanced bradycardic responses to both the cardiac baroreflex (by 42+/-10%) and von Bezold-Jarisch chemosensitive reflex (by 17+/-5%) activation but had no effect in SHR. The cardiac reflex action of ANP was restored in SHR-L (ANP enhanced reflex bradycardia by 28+/-12% and 36+/-8%, baroreflex and von Bezold-Jarisch reflex, respectively; P<0.05), but SHR-S, which developed some cardiac hypertrophy, remained unresponsive to ANP. Our results suggest that the inability of ANP to sensitize cardiac vagal (nonarterial) afferents in SHR was not due to an inherited irreversible component, or the hypertension per se, but was associated with the presence of cardiac hypertrophy. A functional consequence of hypertension-induced cardiac hypertrophy may be the inhibition of the cardioprotective action of ANP through cardiac vagal reflexes.