Relationship between penile thermal sensory threshold measurement and electrophysiologic tests to assess neurogenic impotence

Urology. 2001 Feb;57(2):306-9. doi: 10.1016/s0090-4295(00)00906-7.


Objectives: Erectile function is usually assessed by neurophysiologic tests such as the bulbocavernosus reflex or pudendal nerve somatosensory evoked potentials. These tests investigate only large nerve fibers, although erection depends on autonomic nerve fibers, which are of small diameter. Warm and cold sensory fibers have similar calibers as the autonomic nerve fibers, and their integrity can be reliably evaluated by the measurement of thermal sensory thresholds. We studied penile thermal sensory testing in parallel with standard electrophysiologic tests to assess their sensitivity in the diagnosis of penile neuropathy.

Methods: Twenty-five normal male subjects without erectile dysfunction or evidence of diffuse neuropathy (group 1) and 35 diabetic patients who complained of impotence (group 2) were studied. Erectile function was quantitated using the erectile dysfunction symptom score. Warm, cold, and vibratory sensory thresholds were assessed on the dorsal aspect of the penis. In addition, penile sympathetic skin responses and pudendal nerve somatosensory evoked potentials were recorded.

Results: We found a significant difference between the two groups in the erectile dysfunction symptom score (P <0.0001), cold threshold (P = 0.0007), and warm threshold (P = 0.0025), but not for the other parameters. The erectile dysfunction symptom score correlated with the penile warm and cold thresholds (P = 0.0006 and 0.002, respectively).

Conclusions: Thermal thresholds assess small nerve fiber damage, which can indirectly reflect autonomic disturbances, particularly in the context of a diffuse neuropathy such as diabetic polyneuropathy. Penile thermal sensory testing correlated strongly with the clinical evaluation of erectile function and is a new and promising tool for the diagnosis of neurogenic impotence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Electrophysiology
  • Erectile Dysfunction / diagnosis*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / etiology
  • Erectile Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Penis / innervation
  • Penis / physiopathology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Skin Temperature / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric