The effects of chronic 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor (dutasteride) treatment on rat erectile function

J Sex Med. 2011 Nov;8(11):3066-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02425.x. Epub 2011 Aug 11.


Introduction: Numerous clinical series have reported an association between 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (5ARIs) and sexual dysfunction, but there are limited preclinical data available.

Aim: To further investigate the mechanisms of erectile dysfunction (ED) related to 5ARI therapy using a rat model.

Main outcome measures: Outcome measures include serum dihydrotestosterone (DHT), relaxant and contractile properties of cavernosal muscle, and nitric oxide synthase expression.

Methods: Twenty adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomized into control (N = 10) and dutasteride (0.5 mg/rat/day, in drinking water, N = 10) groups. Serum samples were obtained at baseline, from which DHT was measured after 30 days of treatment via radioimmunoassay (Beckman Coulter, Fullerton, CA, USA). Before the terminal blood draw, erectile response was measured using cavernosal nerve stimulation. The relaxant and contractile properties of cavernosal muscle strips were evaluated in tissue baths, and immunohistochemical (IHC) staining for nitric oxide synthase (NOS) and collagen deposition was performed.

Results: Mean serum DHT was suppressed by 86.5% (range 64.2-94.8%) after 30 days of 5ARI treatment and was statistically significant (P = 0.0024). In vivo erectile response in the dutasteride treated group decreased significantly compared with control (P < 0.001). While electrical field stimulation (EFS)-induced and acetylcholine-induced relaxation was decreased, EFS-induced and phenlyephrine-induced adrenergic contraction was significantly enhanced in the dutasteride group (P < 0.01). IHC studies demonstrated increased collagen deposition in the treatment arm as well as altered expression of neuronal NOS (nNOS) and inducible NOS (iNOS).

Conclusions: The 5ARIs, as demonstrated in these rat cavernosal smooth muscle studies, have a detrimental effect on erectile function. Enhanced iNOS expression may protect penile smooth muscle from fibrosis. The effect of 5ARIs on human sexual function warrants further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors / blood
  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Azasteroids / administration & dosage
  • Azasteroids / blood
  • Azasteroids / pharmacology*
  • Dutasteride
  • Isometric Contraction / drug effects
  • Male
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II / drug effects
  • Penile Erection / drug effects*
  • Penis / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • 5-alpha Reductase Inhibitors
  • Azasteroids
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Dutasteride