The neuropeptide apelin is expressed in hypothalamic paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei and mediates its effects via activation of the apelin receptor (APJ). Evidence suggests a role for apelin and APJ in mediating the neuroendocrine response to stress. To understand the physiological role of APJ in regulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, we measured ACTH and corticosterone (CORT) plasma levels in male and female mice lacking APJ (APJ knockout, APJ KO) and in wild-type controls, in response to a variety of acute stressors. Exposure to mild restraint, systemic injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), insulin-induced hypoglycaemia and forced swim (FS) stressors, elevated plasma ACTH and CORT levels in wild-type mice. Acute mild restraint significantly increased plasma ACTH and CORT to a similar level in APJ KO mice as in wild-type mice. However, an intact APJ was required for a conventional ACTH, but not CORT, response to LPS administration in male mice and to insulin-induced hypoglycaemia in male and female mice. In contrast, APJ KO mice displayed an impaired CORT response to acute FS stress, regardless of gender. These data indicate that APJ has a role in regulation of the HPA axis response to some acute stressors and has a gender-specific function in peripheral immune activation of the HPA axis.