Is vasoactive intestinal polypeptide the principal transmitter involved in human penile erection?

J Urol. 1986 Mar;135(3):638-40. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5347(17)45767-3.


Previous work from this laboratory reported on the effects of several autacoids and other agents on strips of human corpus cavernosum (cc) muscle. These investigations indicated the presence in the cc muscle of a) atropine-sensitive cholinoceptors, b) alpha- and beta-adrenoceptors and c) a non-adrenergic non-cholinergic mechanism. Several recent publications have presented evidence in support of the possibility that vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) is an important, or the chief, transmitter in human penile erection. This paper describes the actions of VIP and other compounds on the cc muscle and the effect of intracavernous injection of VIP in volunteers. Among the agents tested, VIP was the most potent relaxant of the cc muscle. This effect, which was seen at a dose as low as 0.03 nM, was suppressed by VIP antiserum. The response of the isolated penile vasculature to VIP was similar. VIP antiserum had no effect on the relaxation of the cc muscle produced by field stimulation. In five of the seven subjects given intracavernous VIP (1.0 micrograms.) some degree of penile enlargement was evident, but none had an erection. It is suggested that local release of VIP, withdrawal of the alpha-adrenoceptor mediated tonic supply to the penis and the activation of the latter's beta-adrenoceptors are all probably involved in penile erection in man.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / drug effects
  • Muscle Relaxation / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / drug effects
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / pharmacology
  • Penile Erection / drug effects*
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / pharmacology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide