Arterial baroreflex function diminishes with age, but whether cardiopulmonary vagal reflexes are similarly altered with physiological aging has not been fully elucidated. In this study, predominantly cardiac high pressure mechanoreceptor-activated (ramp baroreflex) and cardiopulmonary chemoreceptor-activated (von Bezold-Jarisch reflex) vagal reflexes in conscious, instrumented rats were impaired by 30% to 40% (P<0.05) in 24-month-old (n=12) compared with 6-month-old rats (n=12). To determine whether this is a restorable deficit, the influence of atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), either by infusion or blockade of its breakdown, was studied. ANP infusion was previously shown to enhance Bezold-Jarisch reflex and ramp baroreflex bradycardia in young adult rats. The present study confirmed that vagal reflex augmentation by ANP (50 pmol/kg per minute) also occurs in old rats (increased by 60+/-18% (Bezold-Jarisch reflex) and 91+/-15% (ramp baroreflex; P<0.05). Direct vagal stimulation in anesthetized animals showed that the target for ANP was not the cardiac vagus itself in old rats (n=7), although in young rats only, we confirmed the published finding that ANP enhances vagal bradycardia (by 58+/-14%, n=7). Neutral endopeptidase 24.11 degrades ANP and several other peptides. The neutral endopeptidase inhibitor candoxatrilat (5 mg/kg per day IV for 7 to 9 days) restored vagal reflex bradycardia in old rats (n=6) to levels similar to those in young neutral endopeptidase inhibitor-treated rats (n=6). Impaired cardiopulmonary vagal reflex control of heart rate is thus a feature of normal aging, and this deficit may be ameliorated by either ANP infusion or chronic neutral endopeptidase inhibition.