The neuropathy of erectile dysfunction

Int J Impot Res. 2002 Dec;14(6):433-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijir.3900907.


These studies were intended to explore the relationship between autonomic neuropathy and erectile dysfunction (ED). Sensory thresholds reflecting the integrity of both large diameter, myelinated neurons (ie pressure, touch, vibration) and small diameter axons (ie hot and cold thermal sensation) were determined on the penis and finger. Data were compared across subjects with and without ED, controlling for age, hypertension and diabetes. The correlation of specific thresholds scores and IIEF values were also examined. Seventy-three patients who visited the academic urology clinics at Montefiore hospital were evaluated. All patients were required to complete the erectile function domain of the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) questionnaire: 20 subjects had no complaints of ED and scored within the 'normal' range on the IIEF. Patients were subsequently tested on their index finger and glans penis for vibration (Biothesiometer), pressure (Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments), spatial perception (Tactile Circumferential Discriminator), and warm and cold thermal thresholds (Physitemp NTE-2). Sensation of the glans penis, as defined by the examined sensory thresholds, was significantly diminished in patients with ED and these differences remained significant when controlling for age, diabetes and hypertension. In contrast, thresholds on the index finger were equivalent in the ED and non-ED groups. Threshold and IIEF scores were highly correlated, consistent with an association between diminished sensation and decreasing IIEF score (worse erectile functioning). These relations also remained significant when controlling for age, diabetes and hypertension. The findings demonstrate dysfunction of large and small diameter nerve fibers in patients with ED of all etiologies. Further, the neurophysiologic measures validate the use of the IIEF as an index of ED, as objective findings of sensory neuropathy were highly correlated with worse IIEF scores. The sensory threshold methods utilized represent novel, non-invasive and relatively simple procedures, which can be used in a longitudinal fashion to assess a patient's neurological response to therapies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Axons / physiology
  • Erectile Dysfunction / complications*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / physiopathology
  • Fingers / innervation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Penis / innervation
  • Pressure
  • Sensation
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Thermosensing
  • Touch
  • Vibration