In response to stress, apelin and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) are upregulated in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This study was designed to investigate the effect of stress on endogenous apelin in colon and its regulatory role on colonic motor functions. Colon transit (CT) was measured in rats exposed to acute restraint stress (ARS). APJ and CRF receptor antagonists F13A and astressin were administered intraperitoneally 30 min before ARS loading. Colonic muscle contractions were evaluated by in-vivo motility recording and in-vitro organ bath studies. Detection of apelin or CRF was performed using immunohistochemistry in proximal and distal colon of non-stressed (NS) and ARS-loaded rats. Immunoreactivity of CRF1 with apelin or APJ receptor was detected with double-labeled immunofluorescence in colonic myenteric neurons. Compared with NS rats, ARS accelerated the CT which was attenuated significantly by F13A or astressin. Following ARS, the expression of CRF was increased remarkably in distal colon, while the stress-induced change was not prominent in proximal colon. Apelin-positive cells were detected in myenteric ganglia of distal colon, while no apelin immunoreactivity observed in myenteric neurons of proximal colon. Both apelin and APJ receptor are colocalized with CRF1 in myenteric neurons of distal colon. In the in-vivo colonic motility experiments, apelin-13 exhibited a rapid stimulatory effect. CRF administration increased the motility which was abolished by F13A. Apelin-induced contractions in muscle strips were no longer observed with preadministration of F13A. These results suggest that enteric apelin contributes to the action of CRF on colonic motor functions under stressed conditions.LAY SUMMARY It has been suggested in rodents that acute stress increases the expression of apelin in gastrointestinal tissues. We have found that under stressed conditions, enteric apelin contributes to the CRF-induced alterations in colonic motor functions through APJ receptor.