Cyclic guanosine-3',5'-monophosphate (cGMP)-mediated mechanisms play an important role in vasodilation and blood pressure regulation. We investigated basal activity of the nitric oxide (NO)-cGMP signal transduction pathway in corpus cavernosum from both middle-aged and young rats, and the electrical field stimulation-induced relaxation in the organ was also evaluated. In middle-aged rats, nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and cGMP-phosphodiesterase activities were significantly decreased; however, guanylate cyclase activity was similar. cGMP concentration, a secondary messenger of NO, remained almost the same level as compared with young rats. These results suggest that decrease in cGMP-phosphodiesterase activity is likely to account for the maintenance of cGMP concentration. In isolated corpus cavernosum from middle-aged rats, electrical field stimulation-induced relaxation was partially impaired. These results suggest that downregulation of the NOS and cGMP-phosphodiesterase activities are early events in the pathogenesis of erectile dysfunction.