A critical analysis of the role of testosterone in erectile function: from pathophysiology to treatment-a systematic review

Eur Urol. 2014 Jan;65(1):99-112. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2013.08.048. Epub 2013 Aug 29.


Context: Androgen modulation of erectile function (EF) is widely accepted. However, the use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in men with erectile dysfunction (ED) has generated an unprecedented debate.

Objective: To summarize the relevant data on the incidence, diagnosis, and management of ED coexisting with hypogonadism and to develop a pathophysiology-based treatment algorithm.

Evidence acquisition: We reviewed the relevant medical literature, with a particular emphasis on original molecular studies, prospective observational data, and randomized controlled trials performed in the past 20 yr.

Evidence synthesis: Testosterone modulates nearly every component involved in EF, from pelvic ganglions to smooth muscle and the endothelial cells of the corpora cavernosa. It also regulates the timing of the erectile process as a function of sexual desire, coordinating penile erection with sex. Epidemiologic studies confirm the significant overlap of hypogonadism and ED; however, most guidelines do not consider the differential diagnosis of hypogonadism or the relevance of subclinical disease. Various clinical tools can help the physician to assess and restore androgen levels in men with ED. Special attention is given to fertility-sparing treatments, due to the increasing number of older men desiring fatherhood. The simultaneous use of phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5-Is) and TRT has recently been questioned. Originally proposed as a salvage therapy for nonresponders to PDE5-Is, this approach has been inappropriately transformed into a combination therapy. Clinical data are consistent when reinterpreted in the proper framework, whereas molecular evidence remains controversial.

Conclusions: A body of molecular and clinical evidence supports the use of TRT in hypogonadal patients with ED, although the benefit-risk ratio is uncertain in advanced age. Critical appraisal of this evidence enabled the development of a pathophysiology-oriented algorithm designed to avoid inappropriate treatments and support whether to start with TRT, PDE5-I only, or both. Apparently divergent findings are reconciled when TRT is correctly indicated. An improved diagnosis and individualized management is desirable in light of the many available options.

Keywords: 5α-reductase inhibitors; Aging; Erectile dysfunction; Hypogonadism; PDE5; Sexual function.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Erectile Dysfunction / drug therapy
  • Erectile Dysfunction / etiology
  • Erectile Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Penile Erection / physiology*
  • Phosphodiesterase 5 Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Testosterone / physiology*
  • Testosterone / therapeutic use


  • Phosphodiesterase 5 Inhibitors
  • Testosterone