Pathophysiology of prolonged penile erection associated with trazodone use

J Urol. 1991 Jan;145(1):60-4. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5347(17)38247-2.


Treatment with the antidepressant trazodone has been associated with the occurrence of prolonged penile erection and priapism. To evaluate the effect of trazodone on erection we monitored the periodic physiological sleep-related erections in 6 healthy volunteers in a double-blind crossover study comparing the effect of trazodone, trimipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant) and placebo. In addition, to determine the effects of trazodone on the neurovascular control of penile smooth muscle we performed in vitro studies on corpus cavernosum tissue obtained from patients undergoing penile prosthesis implantation. Trazodone significantly increased the total interval of nocturnal erectile activity, while trimipramine had no effect. During the high dose treatment (nights 4 and 5) the average duration of erectile activity per night with placebo was 158 +/- 41 minutes (mean +/- standard deviation) for night 4 and 177 +/- 21 minutes for night 5. During trazodone treatment the erectile activity per night was significantly prolonged to 285 +/- 115 minutes during night 4 and 232 +/- 86 during night 5 (p less than 0.01). Analysis of the erectile activity in relation to the rapid eye movement sleep period during which erectile activity usually occurs revealed that the detumescence phase of erection, under sympathetic control, was significantly prolonged an average of 2.4 times by trazodone compared to placebo (p less than 0.05). In vitro, trazodone at concentrations comparable to those reached in plasma significantly impaired corporeal smooth muscle contractions elicited by electrical stimulation of adrenergic nerves and antagonized contractions induced by exogenous norepinephrine. We conclude that trazodone can enhance penile erection in man and propose a mechanism related to the alpha-adrenoceptor blocking properties of trazodone by interference with the sympathetic control of penile detumescence.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Muscle, Smooth / drug effects
  • Penile Erection / drug effects*
  • Penile Erection / physiology
  • Penis / drug effects
  • Piperazines / pharmacology
  • Placebos
  • Priapism / chemically induced*
  • Priapism / physiopathology
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Trazodone / pharmacology*
  • Trimipramine / pharmacology


  • Piperazines
  • Placebos
  • Trimipramine
  • 1-(3-chlorophenyl)piperazine
  • Trazodone