Oxytocin plasma levels in the systemic and cavernous blood of healthy males during different penile conditions

World J Urol. 2003 May;20(6):323-6. doi: 10.1007/s00345-002-0300-5. Epub 2002 Oct 17.


It is well established that transmitters of the nonadrenergic-noncholinergic (NANC) system are involved in the control of sexual arousal and penile erection in healthy males. The proerectile activity of dopamine D1/D2 receptor agonist apomorphine-HCl (IXENSE, UPRIMA) involves oxytocinergic pathways descending from the hypothalamus to the brain stem and spinal autonomic centers. Although it has been demonstrated that injection of oxytocin into the paraventricular nucleus and the hippocampus produces penile erection in rats, the significance of the peptide in the control of sexual arousal and penile erection in man has been, up until now, only poorly evaluated. The present study was undertaken to determine whether oxytocin (OT) plasma levels alter in the systemic and cavernous blood of healthy males under different penile conditions (flaccidity, tumescence, rigidity, detumescence). Twenty-five healthy adult males were exposed to visual and tactile erotic stimuli in order to elicit penile tumescence and rigid erection. Blood was taken from the corpus cavernosum (CC) and the cubital vein (CV) during penile flaccidity, tumescence, rigidity and detumescence. Following extraction from plasma aliqouts, oxytocin was measured by means of a radioimmunoassay. An increase was observed in the mean OT plasma levels in the systemic and cavernous blood when the flaccid penis became tumescent (CC: from 66.7+/-34 to 75+/-44 pg/ml; CV: from 71+/-41 to 79+/-49.5 pg/ml). From tumescence to rigidity, OT further rose in the cavernous blood (to 81+/-58 pg/ml), whereas it remained unaltered in the systemic circulation. During detumescence, oxytocin plasma levels dropped in the cavernous but again increased in the systemic blood (to 94+/-49 pg/ml). Our results support the hypothesis of a pivotal role of OT in the mechanism of male sexual arousal and penile erection and provide a rationale for the use of apomorphine in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / blood*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / drug therapy
  • Erectile Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / drug effects
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology
  • Oxytocin / blood*
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology
  • Oxytocin / therapeutic use
  • Penile Erection / drug effects
  • Penile Erection / physiology*
  • Penis / drug effects
  • Penis / physiology
  • Reference Values


  • Oxytocin