Purpose: Erectile dysfunction is one of the most prevalent complications of diabetes in males. Because adequate vascular perfusion is needed for appropriate erectile tissue function a likely reason for the high incidence of this complication in diabetics is a pathological change associated with the disease in vascularization of erectile tissues. We investigate whether chronic diabetes may induce changes in vascularization of the corpora cavernosa using a computerized image analysis system to quantify changes in the smooth muscle and endothelial cell content of the corpora cavernosa of diabetic rats induced by streptozotocin 6 months previously, and compare these changes to those associated with aging.
Materials and methods: We studied 3 groups of rats, including 10-week-old untreated controls, diabetic rats treated with streptozotocin for 6 months starting at age 10 weeks and 18-month-old rats (aged). Penile shafts from these groups were excised, fixed, sectioned and immunostained with anti-smooth muscle actin to identify smooth muscle cells and anti-CD31 to identify endothelial cells. Computerized image analysis was used to quantify the percent area within the corpora cavernosa occupied by smooth muscle cells or endothelial cells, and the data were compared among the groups.
Results: We identified a highly significant decrease in the percentage of smooth muscle and endothelial cells within the cavernosa areas of diabetic rats compared to control or aged rats. Mean cavernous smooth muscle cell content was 15.28 +/- 2.54% in control rats and 9.83 +/- 1.21% in diabetic rats (p = 0.0001). Likewise, cavernous endothelial cell content was 6.93 +/- 0.86% in the control group and 4.01 +/- 1.08% in the diabetic group (p = 0. 0001). However, no statistical difference of smooth muscle or endothelial cell content was found between control and aged rats.
Conclusions: Using the streptozotocin treated rat as a model for diabetes, we showed that smooth muscle and endothelial cell density is significantly decreased in diabetic corpora cavernosa but not in normal aged rats. This observation is a further step toward the understanding of the pathomechanisms for diabetic related erectile dysfunction.