Angiotensin generation in the brain
The existence of a so-called brain renin-angiotensin system (RAS) is controversial. Given the presence of the blood-brain barrier, angiotensin generation in the brain, if occurring, should depend on local synthesis of renin and angiotensinogen. Yet, although initially brain-selective expression of intracellular renin was reported, data in intracellular renin knockout animals argue against a role for this renin in angiotensin generation. Moreover, renin levels in brain tissue at most represented renin in trapped blood. Additionally, in neurogenic hypertension brain prorenin up-regulation has been claimed, which would generate angiotensin following its binding to the (pro)renin receptor. However, recent studies reported no evidence for prorenin expression in the brain, nor for its selective up-regulation in neurogenic hypertension, and the (pro)renin receptor rather displays RAS-unrelated functions. Finally, although angiotensinogen mRNA is detectable in the brain, brain angiotensinogen protein levels are low, and even these low levels might be an overestimation due to assay artefacts. Taken together, independent angiotensin generation in the brain is unlikely. Indeed, brain angiotensin levels are extremely low, with angiotensin (Ang) I levels corresponding to the small amounts of Ang I in trapped blood plasma, and Ang II levels at most representing Ang II bound to (vascular) brain Ang II type 1 receptors. This review concludes with a unifying concept proposing the blood origin of angiotensin in the brain, possibly resulting in increased levels following blood-brain barrier disruption (e.g. due to hypertension), and suggesting that interfering with either intracellular renin or the (pro)renin receptor has consequences in an RAS-independent manner.