Erectile dysfunction (ED) is frequently associated with injury to the cavernous nerve sustained during pelvic surgery. Functional recovery from cavernous nerve injury is generally incomplete and occurs over an extended time frame. We employed a therapeutic gene transfer approach with herpes simplex virus (HSV) vector expressing glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). Rat cavernous nerve was injured bilaterally using a clamp and dry ice. For HSV-treated groups, 20 microl of purified vector stock was administered directly to and around the damaged nerve. Delivery of an HSV vector expressing both green fluorescent protein (GFP) and lacZ (HSV-LacZ) was used as a control. Intracavernous pressure along with systemic arterial pressure (ICP/AP) was measured 2 and 4 weeks after the nerve injury. Fluorogold (FG) was injected into the penile crus 7 days before killing to assess nerve survival. Approximately 60% of major pelvic ganglion (MPG) cells were GFP positive after viral administration. At 4 weeks after nerve injury, rats treated with HSV-GDNF exhibited significant recovery of ICP/AP compared with control vector or untreated groups. The HSV-GDNF group also yielded more FG-positive MPG cells than the control vector group. HSV vector-mediated delivery of GDNF presents a viable approach for the treatment of ED following cavernous nerve injury.