Oxytocinergic innervation of autonomic nuclei controlling penile erection in the rat

Neuroscience. 1999;93(4):1437-47. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(99)00262-6.


In the rat, spinal autonomic neurons controlling penile erection receive descending pathways that modulate their activity. The paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus contributes oxytocinergic fibers to the dorsal horn and preganglionic sympathetic and parasympathetic cell columns. We used retrograde tracing techniques with pseudorabies virus combined with immunohistochemistry against oxytocin and radioligand binding detection of oxytocinergic receptors to evidence the oxytocinergic innervation of thoracolumbar and lumbosacral spinal neurons controlling penile erection. Spinal neurons labelled with pseudo-rabies virus transsynaptically transported from the corpus cavernosum were present in the intermediolateral cell column and the dorsal gray commissure of the thoracolumbar and lumbosacral spinal cord. Confocal laser scanning microscopic observation of the same preparations revealed close appositions between oxytocinergic varicosities and pseudorabies virus-infected neurons, suggesting strongly the presence of synaptic contacts. Electron microscopy confirmed this hypothesis. Oxytocin binding sites were present in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn, the dorsal gray commissure and the intermediolateral cell column in both the thoracolumbar and lumbosacral segments. In rats, stimulation of the paraventricular nucleus induces penile erection, but the link between the nucleus and penile innervation remains unknown. Our findings support the hypothesis that oxytocin, released by descending paraventriculo-spinal pathways, activates proerectile spinal neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoradiography
  • Ganglia, Parasympathetic / cytology
  • Ganglia, Parasympathetic / physiology*
  • Ganglia, Sympathetic / cytology
  • Ganglia, Sympathetic / physiology*
  • Herpesvirus 1, Suid
  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurophysins / analysis
  • Oxytocin / analysis
  • Oxytocin / physiology*
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / chemistry
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Penile Erection / physiology*
  • Posterior Horn Cells / physiology
  • Posterior Horn Cells / ultrastructure
  • Pseudorabies
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spinal Cord / cytology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*


  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Neurophysins
  • Oxytocin