Review

Neurophysiological basis of penile erection

Authors: Fernanda B M Priviero, Romulo Leite, R Clinton Webb, Cleber E Teixeira

Abstract

Penile erection involves a complex interaction between the central nervous system and local factors. It is a neurovascular event modulated by psychological and hormonal factors. The discovery of nitric oxide (NO) as an intercellular messenger or neurotransmitter paved the way for identifying important mechanisms underlying physiological and pathophysiological events in the penis, in addition to providing the knowledge for the development of new therapeutics based on a novel concept of molecule and cell interaction. Despite the fact that sinusoidal endothelial cells also produce and release NO in response to chemical and possibly physical stimuli, roles of neurogenic NO in penile erection appear to be more attractive and convincing, since the pharmacological neuromodulation represents an essential step to attaining penile erection. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is caused by a variety of pathogenic factors, particularly impaired formation and action of NO. Hence, a thorough knowledge of the physiology of erection is essential for future pharmacological innovations in the field of male ED, particularly targeting NO or intracellular cyclic GMP, which represent the most promising therapeutic approach to treat patients with ED.
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